Elections official on GOP voting law: ‘I just don’t think that any of it was necessary’

Christina White of Miami-Dade takes stand in federal lawsuit

By: - February 4, 2022 1:10 pm

People line up to early vote at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department polling site on October 30, 2020. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Last year’s Republican-led tightening of voting procedures has made it more difficult to administer elections and for people to register and cast ballots, the supervisor of elections for Miami-Dade County testified on Friday.

Christina White, under oath in a legal challenge to the new procedures, cited requirements to seek vote-by-mail ballots every year, as opposed to every two under the previous rules, and limits on drop boxes to cast such ballots, among other complaints.

“Our state, my county, was revered as having a near-flawless election cycle. Record voter turnout; no irregularities, as we talked about; results substantiated on time. It was all round a very well-run election. Voters were pleased, particularly in the era of COVID, where voters were unsure whether they should vote in person, should they vote by mail — all of that was administered flawlessly,” White said.

“To have that election cycle then conclude with an election reform bill, you know, with all these various provisions, I think was something that shook all of us as administrators,” she continued.

“At the end of the day, I just don’t think that any of it was necessary.”

On cross examination, Mohammed Jazil, representing Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, said he had “one question for you and one question only: Can you administer elections in Miami-Dade County after passage of SB 90?”

“Yes, I can,” White replied.

A number of voting-rights groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, are suing the state over SB 90, pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and approved by the GOP-dominated Legislature as former President Trump attempted to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election that he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

The state and national Republican parties have joined in the lawsuit to defend the law. During the first week of trial, representatives of voting-rights organizations testified that the law is setting back their efforts to register voters.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee is presiding over a Zoom hearing.

One of the targeted provisions requires voters to reapply for absentee ballots every year, as opposed to once per two-year election cycle under the old system.

White, taking the stand, testified that the old system boosted turnout, including in local elections.

Some 400,000 voters in her county are signed up for vote-by-mail but White expects as many as 500,000 voters to request such by election day in November. But all of those authorizations will lapse soon following that vote.

That means everyone will have to sign up again to vote by mail in the 2024 general election.

Nothing in the new law requires her office to notify voters they need to reapply for mail-in ballots, although White plans to inform them by mail and through social and traditional media platforms, she said. That might cost $400,000.

“It puts us as a disadvantage, because how many ballots am I printing, envelopes, instructions, postage … ? What do I plan for? Am I going to plan for all of those people actually, you know, getting the notification and replying?

“And I can’t count on that. But then, now I’m probably going to have to over-resource my early voting and my election day because I can’t take for granted that they’re all going to reenroll and get back on” the vote-by-mail list, White said.

She expects lots of people to ask her office why they haven’t received their ballots as the election nears only to be told they’ll need to reapply.

“Hopefully, they do it in time, because it’s 10 days prior to the election — that’s the deadline to request. But just taking that type of volume and shifting it so close to the election — it’s certainly something I’m concerned about.”

That could also cause problems if people try to cast votes by mail close to election day because they might not be delivered in time, White said.

Plaintiffs’ attorney David Fox read into the record a memo White wrote while SB 90 was pending calling it “a great disservice to voters,” especially to the elderly, disabled, and overseas military.

White said she stood by those remarks.

And the changes came without consultation with elections supervisors, who overwhelmingly opposed the legislation.

“I often feel that way. There’s sometimes language that’s written into bills that I don’t believe is of service to our voters and, often times, are very difficult for us to administer, especially in a county of our size,” White said.

She described stringent procedures to guarantee the accuracy of her voter list, which her office checks against records maintained by the U.S. Postal Service, state DMV, jury services, the state deaths registry, and ERIC — the Electric Registration Information Center, a multi-state database — among other resources.

“Voter rolls have never been more accurate and up to date,” White said.

The law has required a significant cutback in the number of drop boxes the office can deploy — from 33 at early-voting sites during the 2020 election (cutting back to four on election day and the day before) to two.

She had no problem with vandalism at any of the drop boxes.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.