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Opinion
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Guest Column
DeSantis has made a mess of voting in Florida. Here’s how I would fix it | Column
The Republican attack on our democracy is an emergency, writes Charlie Crist. Here’s how he would respond.
A woman drops off a vote-by-mail ballot with an election worker, right, at an official ballot drop box outside of an early voting site on Oct. 20, 2020, in Miami Beach.
A woman drops off a vote-by-mail ballot with an election worker, right, at an official ballot drop box outside of an early voting site on Oct. 20, 2020, in Miami Beach. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published May 14

Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican colleagues in Tallahassee care more about their political futures than our democracy and your right to vote.

There is no other explanation for their constant voter suppression efforts. The legislation DeSantis signed into law last week is un-American, unconstitutional and anti-democratic. It doesn’t protect voting rights — it undercuts them. It doesn’t make it easier to vote — it makes it much harder. All Floridians, Democrats, Republicans and independent voters alike, should raise their voices and demand these terrible changes be reversed and that their constitutional right to vote be protected.

Charlie Crist
Charlie Crist [ Courtesy of Charlie Crist ]

Even during the worst public health crisis in more than a century, Floridians made extraordinary efforts in November to cast their ballots. Voter turnout was the highest in 28 years, and a record 4.9 million ballots were cast by mail. There were no reports of widespread voter fraud. Yet DeSantis has just made it harder to vote by mail because Democrats cast more mail ballots last year than Republicans and because many Republicans refuse to accept that Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump. It’s outrageous, and it’s a serious threat to our democracy.

The new Florida law makes it harder to stay eligible to vote by mail. It also makes it more difficult for local supervisors of elections to provide ballot drop boxes. This is part of a national voter suppression effort by Republicans that’s taking place in Texas, Georgia and elsewhere. It’s no accident DeSantis signed the legislation into law at a private event filled with Trump supporters and broadcast live on Fox News while Florida journalists were denied access. There’s a good argument that despicable act was as unconstitutional as the new law.

When I was governor, I made it easier to vote — not harder. I signed a law that expanded voting access for eligible citizens. I made it easier to vote by mail, and I extended early voting hours to ease long lines in 2008. On my watch, we restored the voting rights to more than 155,000 felons who had completed their sentences.

It was the right thing to do, and voters agreed. They overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4 in 2018 that aimed to automatically restore voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentences. Yet DeSantis and Republican lawmakers ignored the will of the people and gutted the amendment with a 2019 law that says felons must pay all court fees, fines and restitution before they can vote. It’s an unconscionable poll tax, and this year’s voter suppression law is the latest effort by Republicans to silence Floridians.

If I am elected as Florida’s next governor, here are five steps I would immediately take to make it easier to vote:

First, I would reverse the DeSantis limits on mail ballots, which are opposed by the local supervisors of elections. If the Legislature refused to act, I would declare a state of emergency before the next general election and make the changes myself. The Republican attack on our democracy is an emergency.

Second, I want Florida to join about 20 other states and automatically register to vote anyone who seeks a driver’s license or conducts business with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. If the Legislature refused to act, the governor and Cabinet could require the department to do it.

Third, I would push the Legislature to move the Florida primary from August to the spring, when more voters are here and turnout would be higher.

Fourth, I would make Election Day a state holiday so every voter has a better opportunity to cast their ballots — particularly wage earners for whom taking time off to vote on a Tuesday takes money straight from their pockets.

Fifth, I would make it easier for the governor and Cabinet to restore felons rights — just as I did before. I also would demand that lawmakers allow felons who have completed their sentences to register to vote as Amendment 4 intended while continuing to pay their fines, court fees and restitution.

It’s imperative that we reverse the Republican voter suppression efforts and make it easier for all eligible voters in Florida to participate in electing our leaders. Our democracy’s future depends upon it.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg served as governor from 2007-2011 and is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022.