- Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida on Thursday signed a major GOP-backed election and voting bill into law.
- Senate Bill 90 tightens rules for voting by mail and restricts ballot drop boxes.
- Florida adds to a national trend of Republican legislatures advancing stricter rules on mail voting.
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 90, a major Republican-backed voting and election-administration bill that requires voters to apply for mail ballots more frequently and tightens rules on ballot drop boxes.
The bill passed through both the state Senate and state House almost entirely along party lines. State Sen. Jeff Brandes was the sole Republican in the legislature to vote against the measure. The Senate on April 30 - the last day of Florida's legislative session - approved an amended version of the bill that had been passed by the House two days prior.
DeSantis signed the bill at a Hilton in West Palm Beach. All media outlets were barred from covering or broadcasting the signing except for the Fox News program "Fox & Friends," which exclusively aired the event. Reporters who showed up to the event expecting to be allowed in were instead turned away.
Former President Donald Trump easily carried the state of Florida in 2020 and Republicans won back some key House seats. Still, the pervasive falsehood that the 2020 election was rife with voter fraud, especially due to mail ballots, has taken root among Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country as justification to enact new restrictions on voters and election officials.
Florida joins other states, including Michigan and Texas, that seek not only to make rules around mail voting more stringent but also to impose new requirements and possible penalties on election officials. Florida's law goes into effect on July 1, 2021.
The most significant provisions of SB90:
- The legislation requires Floridians to apply to vote by mail more frequently. Until now, a mail ballot application would qualify voters to get a ballot through the next two general elections. SB90 will require voters to submit a new application every year.
- All ballot requests submitted before July 1, 2021, however, will be good for two cycles, meaning that voters who requested ballots in 2020 will also get them for 2022.
- Voters will also have to provide their Florida driver's license or identification card number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number when requesting a mail ballot over the phone or in-person or updating the address associated with their voter registration.
- The bill tightens restrictions on ballot drop boxes. Under the new law, drop boxes can only be stationed at election supervisors' offices or early voting sites, are limited to being available only during the early voting period, and must be monitored full-time by elections staff.
- In 2020, many counties made drop boxes available before the start of their early voting periods, which can begin as early as October 24 for general elections, and installed drop boxes at libraries and community centers.
- Election officials will be subject to a $25,000 fine for not complying with the new drop box rules.
- The law adds a requirement for voters to show a photo ID when using a staffed ballot dropbox, just as voters are required to do when voting in person in Florida.
- The law adds "engaging in any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter" to the definition of prohibited solicitation by campaign volunteers and third-party groups. Unlike a previous version of the bill, it doesn't expressly ban but could prevent food and water from being given to voters in line, if such a gesture could be interpreted as "influencing a voter."
- It also expands the zone where such solicitation is banned from 100 feet to 150 feet from a voting line or drop box. Nonpartisan election officials and poll workers, however, are still explicitly permitted under the law to deliver items like water and food to voters in line.
- Florida also follows Georgia in banning election officials from accepting private donations or grants, as hundreds of offices around the country did during 2020 to help bear the costs of running elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials can only accept donations in the form of space or buildings to be used as voting sites.
- The bill requires third-party organizations that do voter registration drives to register themselves with the state and follow certain requirements. It also bans mass third-party ballot collection at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Other aspects of the bill include requiring election officials to post real-time turnout numbers and data on the number of mail ballots counted and received on Election Day; new testing and screening requirements for the state's online voter registration system; clarifying rules for duplicating damaged mail ballots; and new public access and transparency rules for election observers watching ballot counting and duplication.
And, like in Georgia, the bill restricts election officials from independently entering into consent decrees with litigants challenging the state's election laws and adds new requirements for notifying the state's attorney general and legislature about settlements that could conflict with existing laws.
Nearly all of Florida's county-level election supervisors vocally oppose the legislation, warning that the restrictions on drop boxes, in particular, could lead to long lines at the polls and make their jobs more difficult around election time.
Almost immediately after the bill's signing, advocacy groups filed two federal lawsuits seeking to block the law.
Groups including the League of Women Voters Florida, Black Voters Matter, and the Alliance of Active Retirees represented filed a lawsuit in federal court aiming to block the law on First Amendment grounds.
A separate lawsuit filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Common Cause, and Disability Rights Florida challenges the law under the Voting Rights Act and the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
Florida Republicans' new move to crack down on mail voting is also a stark reversal from the state's years of nationally recognized success with scaling up mail voting and making the ballot-counting process quick and efficient.
In the years after the 2000 election debacle and especially in the past decade, Florida has often emerged as a model state for the administration of elections in expanding early voting, mail voting, and modernizing the tabulation process.
Before the 2020 election, voting by mail was particularly popular among older Republican voters. But after Trump and the GOP spent months undermining confidence in voting by mail, over 680,000 more Democrats cast their ballots by mail in 2020 than Republicans.