After MLB pulls game from Georgia, a top House Dem says ‘very bad’ voting bills could hurt FL tourism, too

By: - April 5, 2021 5:30 pm

The League of Women Voters urged 2020 voters to register and vote for the candidates of their choice, whether at the polls on Election Day, in early voting, or by mail-in ballot. The league opposes Republican-sponsored bills to curtail methods of voting. Credit: League of Women Voters of Florida

As in Georgia, tourism in Florida could suffer if controversial election reforms pass here, predicts state Rep. Evan Jenne, co-chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

In a rebuke of new Georgia laws restricting voting access, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Friday that MLB is moving its All-Star Game from Atlanta to another city yet to be determined.

The game would have been played in Atlanta on July 13, in honor of Black baseball legend and Atlanta native Hank Aaron, if not for Georgia’s adoption of new laws curbing access to mail-in ballots and early voting, including the African American tradition of voting after church on the Sunday before Election Day, known as Souls to the Polls.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred said in an MLB statement. “I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft.”

Rep. Evan Jenne. Credit: Florida House

Jenne told reporters in an Q&A session Monday that comparable action could hit Florida if the state Legislature adopts Republican-sponsored reforms moving in the House and the Senate to restrict access to mail-in ballots, outlaw distribution of water to voters standing in line, and limit or eliminate use of ballot drop boxes.

“It looks very similar to what took place in Georgia,” Jenne said. “Major League Baseball made a huge decision moving their All Star Game out of Georgia. … I do think there would be some ramifications for us.”

Critics including the League of Women Voters of Florida say the election changes proposed in Florida are obstructionist and unnecessary. Florida’s supervisors of elections have expressed their opposition, as have Florida chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, All Voting Is Local and Black Voters Matter.

“The election ‘reform’ bill that is being touted right now … is a very, very bad bill,” Jenne said, referring to reforms proposed by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican from Hernando County, and the House Committee on Public Integrity and Elections. Similar voting restrictions are being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican representing parts of Sumter, Lake and Marion counties. The sponsors say their restrictions would make good laws better.

Had the restrictions been proposed last year, corporate blowback could have cost Florida the Superbowl, Jenne speculated. He said Florida should be wary of attracting the kind of corporate condemnations aimed at Georgia’s new election laws – from giant brands such as Coca-Cola, Delta, Dell and Microsoft.

“In a state that is so dependent upon tourism as an industry, it seems like probably the wrong fight to get into, especially when it’s just not necessary here in Florida,” Jenne said, citing widespread consensus that Florida’s 2020 elections ran exceptionally well despite the pandemic, historic levels of voting by mail, and an untimely slowdown in postal deliveries.

Meanwhile, Jenne noted that Congress, with House Resolution 1, the “For The People Act,” aims to protect and expand access to voting.

“Florida is moving in a completely opposite direction, should these bills pass. It’s moving in a direction where it becomes intentionally more difficult for someone to cast a ballot. It limits the amount of ways that they can do so,” Jenne said.

“Unfortunately, I think it has more to do with the national climate than it does with what goes on here in Florida.”

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.