Demings proposes expanding early voting drop boxes, taking on Florida’s new voting law

The bill would undo a key measure approved by Florida Republicans this year.
Voting signs are seen just outside the Belleair Beach City Hall Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Belleair Beach is one of 10 small Pinellas municipalities that held elections Tuesday.
Voting signs are seen just outside the Belleair Beach City Hall Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Belleair Beach is one of 10 small Pinellas municipalities that held elections Tuesday. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published June 15, 2021|Updated June 15, 2021

U.S. Rep. Val Demings wants Congress to undo some of the changes to early voting in Florida that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law this year.

Demings, an Orlando Democrat, introduced a bill on Tuesday that requires every county in America to operate a drop box where voters can turn in early ballots for the 45 days before an election. Counties would have to install one drop box for every 20,000 registered voters and make them accessible 24 hours a day.

The measure directly challenges Florida’s new voting law. In April, state lawmakers passed new restrictions on drop boxes that limited their usage to early voting hours. In Florida, there are eight to 14 days of early voting before an election, depending on the county. The bill said those drop boxes also must be manned by the county’s supervisor of elections office.

DeSantis, who wanted drop boxes eliminated altogether, signed the new changes in May in a ceremony carried exclusively on Fox News. Drop boxes were one of many conveniences of early voting that were targeted by President Donald Trump and his supporters, who claimed the boxes were not secure and could be tampered with or could be used to drop off illegal ballots. There is no evidence of either issue happening, and in Florida they are used in counties run by supervisors of both parties.

Related: Gov. Ron DeSantis signs Florida voting bill in front of Trump fan club

Florida’s new law also outlaws possessing more than two ballots other than the voter’s own (except for immediate family members), makes it easier for election observers to dispute election procedures and requires voters to re-request a vote-by-mail ballot more frequently.

“Let’s not be distracted by politically-motivated lies which seek to undermine faith in our elections,” Demings said in a statement. “The Department of Homeland Security under President Trump reported that last year’s election was the most secure in our nation’s history. Unfortunately, Republicans in state legislatures across the country are seeking political advantage by attempting to stop certain people from voting. When we take away someone’s vote, we take away their voice.”

Demings recently announced that she will run for U.S. Senate for the seat held by Republican Marco Rubio.

Related: Val Demings officially announces 2022 run against Marco Rubio

The bill Demings has sponsored would go beyond returning Florida to the status quo in 2020.

Her bill would expand the number of boxes. A place like Hillsborough County, with about 920,000 registered voters, would be required to set up about 45 drop boxes throughout the county under Demings’ bill — 19 more locations than the county operated during last year’s general election.

The legislation comes as congressional Democrats have struggled to muster enough votes in the Senate to pass one of their top priorities — H.R. 1, the For the People Act. Senate Republicans have blocked that bill, which would expand voting rights and attempt to reduce money in politics.

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It is unclear if Demings’ proposal signals that House Democrats may attempt to push through smaller election reform measures to combat the changes to voting approved by Republican legislatures and governors throughout the country in response to the 2020 election.

Demings’ bill, which she called the Every Vote Counts Act, would also require federal election officials to propose an alternative to signature matching for verifying the identity of a voter.

In Florida, thousands of ballots are rejected every election because the signature on the ballot does not match the ones on file with the state. These laws more often affect college-aged voters and seniors — groups more likely to see their signature change. Though not always: In 2016, DeSantis’ ballot was rejected by Flagler County officials because his signature on his ballot wasn’t a match.