The announcement at times felt more like a campaign rally.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced another batch of election priorities Friday that he believes would increase election security, while critics contend would make it more difficult to vote.
The Governor and Republican leaders have touted Florida as the gold standard in election laws, particularly after the 2020 campaign. Yet DeSantis said the state “can’t rest on (its) laurels” before announcing sweeping changes, ranging from vote-by-mail ballots to drop boxes to election observers and more.
Eliminating loopholes allowing for ballot harvesting and regulating ballot drop-offs were among some of the Governor’s top priorities. Everyone should be able to vote, he proclaimed, but no one should be able to cheat.
Campaign officials cannot collect ballots, but volunteers can, DeSantis noted. Meanwhile, organizations can’t post up within 150 feet of a polling place.
“How could you say that that’s how you do it in person and then somehow someone can just harvest hundreds of votes and dump it in some dropbox?” he asked.
Spring Hill Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, who has played a large role in crafting recent election laws, including the dropbox law, said he was ready to help the Governor draft his election package.
“It’s about time that we outlaw the possession of anybody else’s ballot but your own in the state of Florida,” Ingoglia said.
Drop boxes should be monitored around the clock, DeSantis said. The Secretary of State advised county elections offices to monitor drop boxes 24/7 ahead of the 2020 election, but not every county followed that guidance.
“Some of them just said go pound sand,” DeSantis said.
Drop box watchers would prevent people from both harvesting and destroying ballots, he added.
The Governor also questioned the need for copious amounts of drop boxes scattered around rural parts of the state, as some other states do.
“Put it in the mail or take it to the elections office,” DeSantis said. “Why do you need to have these things out there?”
Although Florida’s law only allows elections offices to mail absentee ballots to voters upon their requests, the Governor promised to make a law against mailing unsolicited ballots. Strengthening the signature verification process could also be on the agenda.
He also hoped to ban “special interest groups” from funding state election administration. And he said election observers from both parties should be allowed to monitor election processes.
“We are going to stop elections officials hiding in a backroom, duplicating ballots, matching signatures,” Ingoglia said. “That needs to be open, in front and transparent for the world to see, and we will demand nothing less.”
Speaking from the Hilton at Palm Beach International Airport, the Governor’s announcement at times felt more like a campaign rally, with cheers and boos from the crowd. DeSantis and Ingoglia, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, took jabs at Democratic officials and other states.
DeSantis called it “absurd” that states like Georgia took days to count ballots. Long delays as more ballots come in doesn’t inspire confidence in voters. Most of Florida has real-time ballot-counting status updates, and the Governor wants the straggling counties to get up to speed.
“At 7:15 on Election Night, we know how many votes have been cast. We have a fixed universe of votes,” DeSantis said.
Ingoglia, who called Florida a “beacon of light” for election laws across the nation, railed against the proposed law in the U.S. House of Representatives (HR 1) that he said was Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s plan to institutionalize ballot fraud and harvesting. The U.S. House could vote on the For the People Act — which would mandate early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought changes that Republicans reject as federal overreach — as soon as next month.
DeSantis’ proposal is the latest legislative priority he has announced in recent months.
Republican leaders have been announcing their priorities for the coming Legislative Session since at least September when the Governor and Republican leaders announced their plan to file anti-riot legislation. On Monday, he announced a bill to protect Floridians’ personal data from “big tech.”
But for now, DeSantis says the state has its “marching orders” on election reforms.
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson said they look forward to working with the Governor and grabbed a line from his speech.
“Rather than resting on our laurels and congratulating one another on a successful 2020 election, our time is best spent preparing for 2022 and beyond,” the pair said. “We don’t want to backslide. We are here to keep Florida a model for the rest of America.”
The Governor painted a picture of Florida’s future with “really big events again” as seniors get vaccinated. He would be back to West Palm Beach often he said, including in May to sign the bill into law.
“Blaise and I hope to be back,” DeSantis said. “We’ll have the podium, we’ll have the desk and we’ll sign the bill, and then it’ll be another promise that was made and a promise that was kept in the state of Florida.
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