More Florida elections changes could be coming that affect mail voting, IDs

The 98-page bill was released just a day before it was heard.
Florida Sen. Danny Burgess during a committee hearing on Jan. 13, 2022, in Tallahassee. Burgess is chairperson of the Ethics and Elections committee, which on Tuesday introduced a 98-page election bill.
Florida Sen. Danny Burgess during a committee hearing on Jan. 13, 2022, in Tallahassee. Burgess is chairperson of the Ethics and Elections committee, which on Tuesday introduced a 98-page election bill. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published April 4|Updated April 5

TALLAHASSEE — Many of the 20 people arrested by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ voter fraud unit last year said they believed they could vote because they were issued voter ID cards.

So state lawmakers are now considering adding a disclaimer to voter ID cards: “This card is proof of registration but is not legal verification of the eligibility to vote.”

That’s just one of dozens of changes to Florida’s election laws that lawmakers are considering this year.

Under the 98-page bill released Monday and heard in a Senate committee on Tuesday, some voters would be ineligible to vote by mail, voter registration groups would face enhanced scrutiny and new penalties for certain violations, and candidates and political committees wouldn’t have to report their political contributions as frequently.

The changes — the fourth significant legislation governing the state’s election laws in the last five years — are needed after experiencing last year’s election, said Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, whose Senate committee introduced the bill.

“Florida is the gold standard for elections,” Burgess said. “That doesn’t mean that, after you win the Super Bowl, you don’t watch the tape and improve.”

Much of SPB 7050 targets third-party voter registration groups, whose members sometimes go door to door or stand outside public spaces to try to get Floridians to sign up to vote.

Last year, the Department of State, which oversees elections, fined nine voter registration groups a total of $41,600 for not turning in 3,077 applications to an election supervisor on time. The groups included the Republican Party of Florida, the Florida Democratic Party and left-leaning groups, including Florida Rising Together and Mi Vecino.

The bill would increase those fines for groups that submit late applications, from $100 to up to $5,000 per application. Total fines for an organization could reach $100,000 in a year instead of the current $50,000 limit.

Members of those groups would also be subject to a third-degree felony and up to five years in jail if they retain sensitive information on the forms, such as a voter’s Social Security number.

The groups would also have to give a receipt to each person they register. And completed applications would have to be turned in within 10 days instead of 14.

Secretary of State Cord Byrd said his office had examples of Floridians who couldn’t vote on Election Day last year because their registration wasn’t submitted in time. Requiring a receipt would help crack down on such behavior, he said Tuesday.

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“It was an accountability measure, quite frankly, for the voter,” Byrd said.

One of the provisions in the bill would prohibit first-time voters from voting by mail if the state confirms they weren’t issued a Social Security number and don’t have a Florida-issued driver’s license or ID. Jayden D’Onofrio, a high school senior in Broward County and president of Voters of Tomorrow Florida, told senators that the provision would keep some out-of-state college students from voting.

Much of Tuesday’s discussion was focused on the release of the bill only a day earlier, leaving lawmakers and the public little time to read it. Lawmakers also ran out of time to hear comments from the public on Tuesday, simply reading their names into the record instead of letting them voice their opinions.

“If this bill was so benign, we would have seen it a lot earlier,” said Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, who voted against it. “I’m disappointed and embarrassed by this process.”

Abdelilah Skhir, the voting rights policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, pointed out one convoluted sentence in the bill that, in part, would order elections supervisors to “identify change-of-address information from returned nonforwardable return-if-undeliverable address confirmation final notices mailed to all registered voters who have not voted in the two preceding general elections.”

“A rushed process like that leads to language that’s frankly suboptimal,” Skhir said.

Burgess said the bill was released so late because his committee was practicing “prudence” and trying to get it right. He said they were already going to amend some parts because of warnings from elections supervisors.

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