FL veterans’ group urges defeat of SB 90 voter suppression bill

April 13, 2021 9:00 am

Early voting in the state capital, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Credit: Diane Rado

Pioneer Floridians had a saying that rings true about Florida politics today. To paraphrase, “Your life, liberty, and property are at risk when the Florida Legislature is in session.”

And this year’s Legislature puts Floridians’ rights at risk more than most. A fundamental right is threatened, your voting rights. Specifically, the Republican-controlled Legislature is set on causing inconvenience and confusion for Florida voters about mail-in-voting.

These changes will result in voter suppression.

Senate Bill 90, sponsored by Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley of Central Florida and already approved by two committees, would force voters to submit vote-by-mail requests more often, which is an inconvenience and also an unnecessary expense for supervisors of elections.

Worse, once it takes effect it would cancel voters’ current vote-by-mail ballot requests. This cancellation means voters who submitted a request last year expecting it would be valid through next year would need to submit a new request. Besides, the bill would make voting inconvenient for everybody by eliminating secure vote-by-mail drop boxes.

But by far, the worst part of the bill is that it criminalizes innocent behavior.

Baxley’s bill makes you a criminal if you do a good deed for a neighbor or a disabled veteran.

For Baxley, it’s tough luck if people can’t vote in person because they are a disabled veteran, unable to drive, or too ill to get to a drop box or the supervisor of elections office. Somehow, they are expected to drop off their own ballot. Baxley’s bill would make you an outlaw if you do it for them and if you are not an immediate family member with adequate ID to pick up or drop off.

It should be obvious to all that the real purpose of this unnecessary legislation is to suppress the vote. The purpose can’t be to have more secure elections.

In this last election for once, Florida can be proud that we had a secure and efficient election. Approximately, 4.8 million voters in Florida cast their ballots by mail in 2020. More than 1.5 million Floridians used a drop box to deliver their ballot to the supervisors-of-election. Widespread voter fraud didn’t happen in Florida.

The evidence is clear. Millions of citizens voted by mail and used drop boxes without any significant problems. Secretary of State Laurel Lee, a Republican appointee, testified before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee that she was not aware of election fraud in 2020 and law enforcement had not informed her of any.

Even Baxley admits vote-by-mail has worked well in Florida this last election. So why is he sponsoring the bill? Baxley says his proposal is needed to “create less opportunities for mishap or mischief,” according to news accounts. Still, he fails to identify those opportunities.

A more reasoned approach is to identify a problem and then fix it. The bill’s supporters will scuttle a system that works and that voters like. Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus told the House Public Integrity & Elections Committee recently, “…to continue our trajectory of successful election in Florida, data-driven, evidence-based decisions and a moderated approach to legislating is key,” the Miami Herald wrote.

Senator Baxley and the bills’ supporters would prefer to call themselves fiscal conservatives. They’re not. If the bill passes, the Legislature is forcing an unfunded mandate on counties. Supervisors of elections will have to pay the cost of educating voters about the change and sending out unnecessary vote-by-mail applications, a waste of money that can be avoided by defeating the bill.

Alan Hays, supervisor of elections for Lake County, has said the bill would cost state taxpayers millions in 2022.

According to media reports, 66 of Florida’s 67 county supervisors of elections, including Hays, oppose the bill. That should tell you something.

Citizens need to trust their government for it to function. We have seen the despicable result of a misinformation campaign claiming the last election was fraudulent and rigged.

Legislators only create confusion and mistrust when they attempt significant changes to a voting system that is working well. Baxley and the bill’s supporters have a responsibility to point out fraud or mishaps when they happen.

Using unsubstantiated and imagined concerns about voting irregularities as an excuse to make voting more difficult is an outrage for veterans. We served our country to insure the right to vote and we believe the vote should not be suppressed.

Instead of fiddling around to correct an imaginary problem, the Florida Legislature should be working on issues that can make the lives of all Floridians better.

For instance, the Legislature could pass bills to combat climate change, an issue we veterans, and the Pentagon, recognized as a national security threat years ago. The Legislature could pass bills to expand clean, renewable energy to electrify our economy.

Although as Florida pioneers observed, the Florida Legislature prefers to limit our rights, not solve problems.

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Gene Jones
Gene Jones

Gene is a founding member and current president of Florida Veterans for Common Sense. He served in the Air Force as a linguist and analyst (1964-1968). He practiced law in Sarasota, Florida until his retirement in 1999. He wrote the books Adventuring in Paradise, a non-fiction outdoor recreation guide for Southwest Florida and Suwannee Divide, an historical novel about Florida during the Civil War. The Sarasota Herald Tribune and other Florida media have published his guest columns.