Senate’s toned-down voting bill fails to stop backlash from election officials and voting-rights groups

By: - April 15, 2021 3:06 pm

Credit: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Republican state lawmakers are backing down from plans to ban ballot drop boxes and to make it harder to request mail-in ballots, but that has not quelled widespread criticism of their efforts to make it harder to vote in the name of election integrity.

A coalition of leading voting-rights and civil-rights organizations will convene on Thursday night in an online public hearing to discuss their concerns about the proposed election reforms and to hear from Florida voters.

The forum is scheduled to include Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried; Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo, vice chair of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections; and representatives of Equal Ground Action Fund, Disability Rights Florida, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Black Voters Matter, All Voting is Local, and many others.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican who represents parts of Lake, Marion, and Sumter counties, has rewritten his Senate Bill 90 to restore the limited use of ballot drop boxes, which he initially wanted to ban. Florida election records show that 1.5 million Floridians voted via drop boxes in 2020, one-third of all those who cast their ballots remotely in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and slowdowns in U.S. mail deliveries.

Baxley also has agreed not to cancel existing voter requests for mail-in ballots through the 2024 general election — but new requests would be good for only one election cycle (up to two years).

Meanwhile, the rewrite adds complex signature-matching provisions that critics say would lead to the unwarranted purging of millions of legitimate voters from the rolls.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas Republican, joined Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee Wednesday in opposing such a requirement.

Baxley has insisted repeatedly that, even though Florida commendably ran its elections in 2020, voters who lack confidence in elections want more restrictions on who can vote, when, and how.

“I don’t think we should rest on our laurels and congratulate each other for a successful election,” Baxley told senators on Wednesday. “We all lose when people have no confidence in the integrity of an election.”

Critics have blamed Republicans nationwide for eroding confidence in elections by promoting Donald Trump’s baseless accusation that he lost the presidential election due to widespread fraud. Scores of Trump lawsuits alleging voting fraud were thrown out by courts across the country.

Baxley’s rewrite, now more closely resembling voting reforms promoted in the House, is pending review in one more Senate committee before it could reach a full Senate vote.

Key provisions in the House and Senate bills include:

  • Requiring election officials to match a voter’s signature at the time of voting with an earlier one made with pen on paper within the past four years. Since signatures on official records have been taken electronically for decades, potentially millions of voters may be unable to satisfy that requirement and won’t be able to vote, senators from both political parties argued in tense debate Wednesday.
  • Requiring requests for mail-in ballots to be filed for every election cycle, or twice as often as is allowed by law now. Baxley said this would prompt voters to give more thought to whether they wish to vote by mail or in person.
  • Restrict who can handle a voter’s mail-ballot on their behalf to members of immediate family and household members.
  • Allow observers to get closer than ever to ballot-counting, which Brandes warned would overcrowd some county election offices, be disruptive, and permit leaks of information before polls close. His attempt to strike that provision — as endorsed by the election supervisors association — was voted down Wednesday.
  • Provide a check box for former felons attesting that their right to vote has been restored.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Hernando County Republican, has been heavily vetted in various committees and is awaiting a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee, where it is expected to pass, setting up a full House vote.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

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. Contact her at [email protected]

MORE FROM AUTHOR