Would an elections reform package expand vote-by-mail opportunities or restrict them? Heated debate broke out this weekend over potential impacts from legislation intended to cure problems exposed in the 2018 recounts.
Florida Democrats attacked a provision cutting off when supervisors of elections send out vote-by-mail ballots. Juan Peñalosa, Florida Democratic Party executive director, labeled the elections package (HB 7101) a “voter suppression bill” in a party memo.
“If the bill becomes law, it could block tens of thousands of Floridians from voting by mail in the critical days before Election Day,” he wrote.
But Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the bill’s sponsor and former chair of the Republican Party of Florida, scoffed at the assertion.
“I dare the Florida Democrats to send out a press release calling this bill voter suppression,” he said. “If they do, it will prove they are just as bad at policy as they are at winning statewide elections.”
So what does the bill do?
The controversial provision moves the deadline for voters to request vote-by mail ballots from six days ahead of an election to 10 days; the deadline for supervisors to mail out the ballots would move from four days out to eight.
Ingoglia said that’s to protect voters, not suppress their opportunity. Mailing ballots to voters just four days out from an election is “just playing with fire,” he said. The logistics of expecting mail to arrive and for voters to have time to return ballots appears increasingly untenable.
That’s part of why the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections called for this particular reform at a post-election conference. Elections officials from both parties at the time said you increasingly can’t trust mail delivery anymore.
But Florida Democratic Party officials say the change will limit the ability for many to vote.
Looking at voter behavior in the 2018 general election, party officials found 71,485 requests for ballots made after Ingoglia’s proposed deadline. Moreover, 99.343 ballots were mailed in the four-day window Ingoglia’s bill would close.
The party figures nearly 54,000 votes cast in the 2018 election would be invalidated if the legislation had been in place.
Ingoglia said that ignores that the reforms also require supervisors to provide ballots much sooner.
“Floridians will have 40 days to vote in the state of Florida,” he said, “which is probably the longest window in the United States.”
Paul Lux, FSASE president, told WFSU News he supports the changes and believes they will “expand access to voting.”
And while supervisors couldn’t send out blank ballots as late under the bill, the legislation also makes returning ballots by hand easier. Ingoglia’s bill lets voters hand-deliver ballots to early voting locations set up by county supervisors.
The debate interestingly harkens back to the “walk it in” campaign by state Republicans in 2018, when Ingoglia led the party. That encouraged Republican voters to hand-deliver ballots to elections offices rather than trust the mail.
“We did not want to take anything for granted in terms of Republican votes,” he said.
Democrats, though, said Ingoglia’s reflexive pushback against criticism gives away the game. Terrie Rizzo, FDP chair, said if the Legislature cares about ensuring votes get counted, it should allow more flexibility, not less.
“Why not extend days for ballots to arrive if postmarked by Election Day like other states do!” she said on Twitter.
That’s something Rep. Geraldine Thompson proposed as part of a series of Democratic amendments to the bill, all of which were voted down.
Ingoglia called Thompson’s amendments “really bad.”
But he said he found it laughable Democrats suddenly hold an interest in vote-by-mail ballots, which traditionally favor GOP candidates. He even suggested the Democratic opposition stems chain of custody provisions.
“The skeptic in me would say maybe Democrats are suddenly worried about provisions in the bill having to do with ballot security,” he said.
The legislation unanimously advanced in the House State Affairs Committee, he notes, before it got four down votes in the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee.