Guest Column
Why did Florida GOP leadership decide to ‘reform’ voting now? | Column
They think it will help them in future elections, pure and simple.
An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral in October 2020.
An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral in October 2020. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Jun. 21, 2021

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law SB 90, the new “election administration” legislation that puts into place new restrictions for both in-person and mail-in voting. The legislation took effect immediately and will, therefore, be in effect for Florida’s midterm and gubernatorial elections come November 2022, in which the governor is the clear front-runner among Republicans, but is currently in a tight race with Democratic front-runner Nikki Fried, according to recent polling.

Among the most notable restrictions being put into place regarding mail-in voting are the limitations on hours of access to voter drop boxes, the ban on third-parties helping voters return their vote-by-mail (“VBM”) ballots, and requiring additional means of identification for voters requesting VBM ballots.

What makes Florida’s passing of SB 90 different from other states that have passed similar voting restrictions is Florida’s long history of mail-in voting, which has been especially beneficial for its senior citizens. Despite this history and despite DeSantis’ past statement after the November 2020 election that Florida has “the strongest election integrity measures in the country,” the Florida governor signed these new measures into law.

So, why now? If there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Florida or any other state in 2020, then why put such measures in place now?

Connor D. Porzig
Connor D. Porzig [ Provided ]

Well, as Adeel Hassan mentions in his article for the New York Times, it’s worth noting that in the 2016 and 2018 elections, more Republicans voted by mail in Florida than Democrats. However, in 2020, as the entire nation was still in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic and former President Donald Trump was spreading doubts about mail-in voting to his Republican base, those numbers turned, resulting in about 700,000 more ballots being cast for Democrats than Republicans. While they may not admit that this is part of their calculus, I think there is little doubt that Florida Republicans put forward these measures because they think it will help them win in future elections.

As to in-person voting, the legislation uses very broad language in addressing the issue of “solicitation,” outlawing the solicitation of voters within 150 feet of any polling place. The bill states that the term solicitation “shall include, but not be limited to ... engaging in any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter.” This language may appear harmless to a layperson, however, when legislators insert this sort of broad language in a bill like this, it is done so with purpose. For example, there is an argument to be made that SB 90 would, in-effect, prevent private citizens from handing out snacks or water to voters who have been in-line waiting for hours because it could influence the voter to stay in line and make their vote.

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Numerous organizations, including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Florida have already filed suit challenging certain provisions of the legislation, arguing that the legislation will serve as yet another hurdle to Florida voters, especially minorities, young people, and senior citizens, who collectively make up over 50% of Florida’s voting population.

Recently, voting legislation has become the focus in Washington as well, with President Joe Biden voicing his support for HR 1, which is Congress’ most recent federal voting rights legislation. HR 1 would not only counteract the actions taken in states like Florida, but also introduce new reforms on campaign financing in federal elections. However, with the Senate at a 50-50 split, this legislation is unlikely to be voted on with the filibuster rule in place, which, in its current form, requires 60 votes for “cloture.” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, has offered his own compromise version of the bill, but Republican Senate leadership has snubbed his effort. The bill is supposed to go to the Senate floor on Tuesday, but Republicans again will stand in the way.

Connor D. Porzig is a second-year law student at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School and the president of the American Constitution Society, Tampa Bay Cooley Law Chapter. He aspires to become a public defender and devote his life and career to public service.