Democrats say DeSantis’ proposed voting reform legislation is actually an attempt to suppress voters.
Florida counties sent out a record number of vote-by-mail ballots during the 2010 general election. (Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections)
TAMPA, FL — Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis calls his proposal to prohibit the mass mailing of vote-by-mail ballots an initiative to provide more voter transparency. However, Democrats say DeSantis’ proposed voting reform legislation is actually an attempt to suppress voters.
“We did it right in 2020; we obviously gotta look and make sure we’re doing it better,” he said during a news conference Friday.
“Last November, Florida held the smoothest, most successful election of any state in the country,” said DeSantis during a news conference Friday. “While we should celebrate this feat, we should not rest on our laurels. Today, we are taking action to ensure that Florida remains a leader on key issues regarding our electoral process, such as ballot integrity, public access to election information, transparency of election reporting and more.”
DeSantis’s proposed legislation won a nod from both Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson who issued a joint statement:
“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. We don’t want to backslide,” said the Republican legislators from Pasco County.
But Democrats say DeSantis’s election bill is a blatant attempt to restrict voting by mail, which former President Donald Trump blames for his loss of the Oval Office.
Florida election offices received more than nine million ballots during the general election, up 41 percent from the 2016 election when there was no pandemic forcing voters to stay home: 1,506,223 from Republicans, 2,189,710 from Democrats and 1,159,744 from those with no party affiliation.
DeSantis’s legislation would prohibit the mass mailing of vote-by-mail ballots like those sent out by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Voter Information and its partner organization, the Voter Participation Center, during the 2020 general election.
The center sent out 5.6 million vote-by-mail ballots to Florida voters prior to the general election.
Noting that the center is nonpartisan, CVI founder Page Gardner said the mass mailings were intended to encourage voter participation during the coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis also wants to prohibit Florida elections supervisors from receiving grants from nonprofit organizations for get-out-the-vote campaigns like the Equity Alliance’s 2020 “Souls to the Polls” initiative to encourage Black voters to participate in the election.
DeSantis contends that the mass ballot mailings and vote-by-mail campaigns encourage voter fraud.
His proposed legislation would “address ballot harvesting so that no person may possess ballots other than their own and their immediate family,” which is already a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida, and would require voters to submit a new vote-by-mail request each election year.
The legislation would also limit the use of the ballot drop boxes set up by many elections offices last year to make it easier for residents to drop off their completed ballots during the pandemic.
Additionally, the proposed legislation would require supervisors of elections to report how many mail-in ballots were requested and how many were received, something the supervisors already provide.
DeSantis also wants all signatures on vote-by-mail ballots to be matched to the voter’s most recent signature on file at the election office and wants political parties and candidates to observe the signature-matching process.
“By strengthening these election integrity protections, we will ensure that our elections remain secure and transparent, and that Florida’s electoral process remains a blueprint for other states to follow,” DeSantis said. “The proposed legislation takes an important step in designing some of the nation’s strongest election integrity protections and providing unprecedented election transparency for Florida residents.”
The Florida Supervisors of Elections, an association of Florida’s 67 elections officials, generally consults with legislators on bills that impact the state’s election laws. In a statemen issued by the FSE, the association said it never received a copy of DeSantis’s proposed bill and, therefore, could not comment on how it would impact the electoral process.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Pinellas County, agreed with DeSantis that Florida held a successful 2020 election and sees no need for the reforms proposed by DeSantis.
“Florida’s 2020 election was historic – record-breaking turnout and virtually no issues. It was by all accounts a success, and we should be building on it by making it easier for Floridians to make their voices heard – not harder,” Crist said. “Gov. DeSantis’s proposal goes in the wrong direction. It’s a nakedly partisan political play.”
He said the legislation “answers many of the false claims propagated by former President Trump following his loss in the 2020 presidential election.”
He said it contains policies that would make it more difficult to vote by mail, attacks the safe and convenient use of ballot drop boxes, targets nonpartisan voter participation groups who want to encourage voting and duplicates the signature-matching program Florida already has in place.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Republicans in 33 states have introduced 165 bills calling for measures that would restrict voter access.
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