State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando. Credit: Colin Hackley
Republican state lawmakers who changed Florida’s election laws last year used highly unusual tactics to pass reforms they promoted in the name of election integrity, a Democratic lawmaker testified Friday.
As a witness in a federal trial seeking to overturn the new law, Democratic state Rep. Geraldine Thompson said 2021’s SB 90 purports to keep Florida elections safe and secure, despite the lack of evidence that they were not.
“It did not make sense because the supervisors of elections had reported no problem with the security of the voting process. They had no concerns with regard to the integrity of the process, so to say that the goal was to ensure security and integrity made no sense to me,” Thompson testified.
In fact, all but one of Florida’s 67 supervisors of elections stated in a court document that they would mount no defense of SB 90, even though each is named as a defendant in the federal lawsuit filed by voting- and civil-rights organizations.
Earlier Friday, Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Christina White testified that the new laws have made it more difficult to administer elections and for people to register and cast ballots. “At the end of the day, I just don’t think that any of it was necessary,” White said.
Lawyers representing state officials and the state and national Republican Party have attempted to establish during cross examination of various witnesses that the new law has not seriously hampered voting or election administration.
Rep. Thompson, who serves on the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee, testified Friday that she saw the election-reform bill that ultimately passed as SB 90 for the first time when it came to the House floor for a vote.
“It was offered a couple of days before the end of session, where there was little or no opportunity for discussion or to try to find common ground or to improve the product before there was a vote,” Thompson said, recalling that Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia presented it as a “strike-all amendment” hours before it was scheduled for House debate.
That’s a way to totally rewrite a bill that’s moving through the legislative process.
“It is very unusual, very unusual,” Thompson testified. “Rarely is there a strike-all offered once a bill is on the floor to be taken up for a vote. Normally, a strike-all would be offered in committee, so that you have the best product and the product is complete and almost final by the time it reaches the floor.”
She said she did not recall any other bill coming to the House for a vote in the form of a strike-all amendment.
It was not the language Ingoglia had brought before the Public Integrity and Elections Committee, she said.
“We certainly had expected we would have another opportunity to provide input … but the next time we saw the bill, it was now SB 90 and on the floor for a vote,” she said.
Federal Judge Mark Walker, presiding over the Zoom trial in Tallahassee, asked Thompson whether it is unusual for a top-priority bill backed by the state’s governor and leaders of his political party in the Florida Legislature to be fast-tracked.
That is not unusual, Thompson said, but House leaders treated SB 90 quite differently. She compared it with another GOP high priority, HB 1, an anti-riot law crafted by the governor and the first bill introduced during that same 2021 session.
“[HB 1] came through the process very quickly, but we did have an opportunity, we did have time to discuss and to debate it and offer amendments — unlike with this bill, which was offered at the 11th hour very close to the end of the session,” Thompson replied.
She said the sponsors, Republicans Sen. Dennis Baxley and Rep. Ingoglia, presented no evidence of voter fraud in support of their bill, which cuts back the use of ballot drop boxes and tightens vote-by-mail procedures, measures that are expected to shrink voter participation following a record turnout in 2020.
In fact, the only fraud that became evident involved candidates, not voters and not election officials.
“Later in the process, there was evidence presented regarding stealth candidates who ran as individuals with no party affiliations and siphoned votes away from Democrats, which then allowed Republicans to win Senate seats,” Thompson said.
A former state senator and Republican operative faces criminal prosecution in that scheme.
The plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, assert that SB 90 will curtail voting by minority voters and that that was the legislative intent.
The defendants, who include Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, have not yet presented their defenses. The trial began Monday and is expected to continue through next week.
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