At the Leon County Courthouse, 2020 voters could vote early in person or by dropping their ballots in a drop box. Credit: Diane Rado
With two months to go before the Florida Legislature convenes in March, no election reform bills have been filed so far – a contrast to what’s happening in several other states around the nation.
In Texas, for example, 75 election-related bills have been filed to date, balanced between proposals by Democrats that would expand voting access and from Republicans who would tighten voting rules. That includes a proposal to create a new law enforcement unit dedicated exclusively to enforcing and prosecuting election and voting crimes, similar to the Office of Election Crimes and Security created by the Florida Legislature in the 2022 session, according to NBC News.
Overall, there have been more than 250 election-related bills filed by state legislators around the nation since the Nov. 8 general election, according to the Voting Rights Lab that tracks such legislation.
Cecile Scoon, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said that it’s far too early to predict what type of bills may be introduced by state Republicans in March, “but we’re under the impression that they may come back for some of the things that they didn’t get the first time this coming year.”
Scoon says the election measure that she’d like to see get put into law this year is for the state to create a portal to allow people with previous felony convictions to be able to determine if they still have outstanding legal financial obligations as part of their original criminal sentence – an issue that the Legislature has never addressed after they amended Amendment 4 in the 2019 session.
That was the constitutional amendment that was supposed to automatically restore voting rights to felons who had completed their criminal sentence. The Legislature passed a measure that required those felons to have to pay off all of their legal fines and fees they owned that was imposed on them by a judge at the time of their sentencing, limiting the impact of the amendment.
“I think the state has the obligation to create a system where it’s easy for potential voters to determine if they’re eligible to vote,” Scoon says. “That is not the present system.”
In August, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the arrests of 20 people on alleged voter fraud charges, all involving individuals who said they thought they were eligible to vote in 2020 despite past felony convictions. Since then, at least two of those cases have been dropped, while in a third case a plea deal allowed that person to avoid any punishment, according to the Miami Herald.
Florida election officials conducted what was considered a fair and clean election last November, where results were finalized before the end of the evening. By most measures the state had an equally successfully administered election in 2020, yet that didn’t prevent the Legislature from passing election reform bills over the subsequent two legislative sessions that were criticized as being unnecessary by supervisors of elections from both political parties, according to Spectrum Bay News 9. That resulted in litigation from a coalition of voting rights groups.
A federal judge last spring struck down key provisions of SB 90, the election reform passed by the Legislature in 2021, ruling that the law “disproportionately” burdened Black voters by violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 1st and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The state appealed the ruling, and a panel of appellate judges reinstated major sections of the law in May of 2022.
Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley, the current president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections, told the Phoenix that he should have clarity soon on what the priorities from his colleagues are going into the upcoming legislative session in 2023.
“There are a few areas that we’re concerned about, but we’re still in the process of finalizing our legislative priorities,” he said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures lists several election issues that may be adopted by state legislatures this year, including regulating what poll watchers can see and do; more bills on maintaining voter rolls and “fine-tuning” ID requirements and exemptions; and reviewing state certification standards for voting equipment and defining post-election audits.
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