Analysis: U.S. ‘Freedom to Vote Act’ would roll back new FL voting restrictions

Proposal would restore widespread use of mail-in ballots and drop boxes

By: - October 5, 2021 5:12 pm

Credit: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Federal voting-rights legislation pending in Congress would countermand new rules in Florida that restrict use of ballot drop boxes and make it harder for voters to gain access to mail-in ballots, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress.

The progressive policy institute’s analysis, released Tuesday, says the “Freedom to Vote Act” pending in the U.S. Senate would restore access to mail-in ballots, which 4.5 million Florida voters used in 2020.

That was an historic high, with elections supervisors facilitating the practice as a secure way to cast ballots without risking exposure to COVID-19 at polling places.

Since then, 19 states have enacted 33 laws making it harder for Americans to vote, with minorities most affected, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which is tracking such legislation.

The Center for American Progress analysis focused on Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and Texas.

“These states have already adopted anti-democratic laws that, if left to stand, would block voters from casting ballots in upcoming elections and allow partisan actors to manipulate election outcomes for personal gain,” wrote the authors, Danielle Root, Michael Sozan, and Alex Tausanovitch.

The League of Women Voters of Florida is suing the State of Florida in federal court, charging that the state’s new “anti-voter laws” target vulnerable groups.

“The League of Women Voters of Florida supports the Freedom to Vote Act, a bill that protects and expands the right to vote, decreases the influence of money in politics, and curbs partisan gerrymandering,” League President Cecile Scoon said in a written statement.

“The Freedom to Vote Act protects and expands ballot access for millions of Americans, especially those who are often targeted by anti-voter laws like those we’ve seen here in the Sunshine State — voters of color, voters with disabilities, formerly incarcerated voters, young voters, and elderly voters,” she said.

“The Freedom to Vote Act is the bill the American people want and need to make the promise of democracy real for us all,” Scoon continued. “The Florida League strongly urges every U.S. senator, especially Sens. [Marco] Rubio and [Rick] Scott to support this bill.”

Despite no findings of significant election fraud in Florida’s 2020 elections (or in any state), the 2021 Florida Legislature adopted Senate Bill 90 — and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it during a Fox News-only event — to cut back on the use of mail-in voting. Former President Donald Trump voted by mail in Florida but nevertheless disparaged the practice to his Republican supporters, who largely cast their 2020 votes in traditional polling places.

SB 90’s Republican sponsors, Sen. Dennis Baxley and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, pitched the reforms in the name of election integrity after Republicans around the nation cast baseless aspersions on the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.

Florida’s election supervisors opposed SB 90, arguing the new laws would create unnecessary headaches for election workers and for voters without improving an election process that was widely commended as secure and efficient.

SB 90 also establishes an unprecedented $25,000 fine to punish election officials who do not strictly adhere to the new limits on ballot drop boxes, despite their testimony that drop boxes are safe, useful and should be numerous, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

Critics argue that Florida’s new law is intended to suppress voting, especially by minorities, some of whom traditionally lean Democratic. In May, the voting rights organizations filed federal lawsuits to block implementation of SB 90. The National Republican Senatorial Committee intervened in the case in support of DeSantis and other Republican state leaders.

The Center for American Progress analysis compared the pending federal legislation with Florida’s new voting laws. Here are its key findings:

  • The Freedom to Vote Act, if enacted, would prevent Florida from mandating stricter identification requirements on voters requesting mail ballots, which includes requesting absentee ballots for voters overseas. Again, election supervisors in Florida said the stricter rules are unnecessary and can hinder legitimate voters from accessing their ballots.
  • The federal act would reverse new state rules requiring voters to renew their requests for mail-in ballots every two years or become ineligible to vote by mail.  Under the federal act, voters would remain on a permanent mail-voting list until they are no longer registered in Florida. Florida election supervisors testified that frequent renewals are expensive and serve no purpose in terms of election security.
  • The federal act would reverse Florida’s cutback in the use of ballot drop boxes by setting minimum standards for siting boxes in each voting jurisdiction, restoring the wider range of days when ballots may be dropped off in those boxes, and requiring one-fourth of them to be accessible 24 hours a day. Elections supervisors in Florida reported no lost ballots, damaged ballots, vandalized boxes, or other mishaps related to ballot drop boxes.

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. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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