Debbie Wasserman Schultz joins state Democrats to denounce GOP-backed changes to vote-by-mail

Voter receiving ballot in mail
After outperforming Republicans in mail voting last cycle, Democrats say the GOP is suppressing the vote.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz joined with state lawmakers Friday, pushing back against Republican proposals to alter Florida’s mail ballot request process.

The legislation would require voters seeking a mail-in ballot to request those ballots every election cycle. Under current law, those requests are good for two election cycles. Republicans say the new restrictions are needed to increase ballot security.

The change comes after Democrats reversed a long-held trend in the state last cycle. While Republicans typically outpace Democrats in vote-by-mail ballots, Democrats won out in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If Democrats turn out too much, on cue, Republicans crack down and enact stringent voting restrictions,” Wasserman Schultz said. “On Tuesday, Florida Republicans are poised once again to continue their onslaught on voting access in our state.”

Tuesday marks the start of the 2021 Legislative Session in Florida, though it’s likely the voting legislation will take some time before both chambers approve. State Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, is backing the Senate measure (SB 90), while state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, is behind the House version. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is supporting the proposed changes.

“We’re in 2021 and we’re suppressing the votes when in 2020, we saw the largest number of Black voters in this country, even in this state,” argued Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones on Friday’s Zoom call. “And because they saw that, now they’re trying to take that away from us.”

Democratic state Rep. Michael Gottlieb also cited previous comments by DeSantis and Ingoglia lauding the state’s election successes last cycle as several other states took days or weeks to get a final vote count.

“The 2020 election cycle was dubbed by DeSantis as the most transparent and efficient election anywhere in the country. And then we have Rep. Ingoglia, who’s carrying the bill in the Florida House, calling it a ‘beacon a light,’” Gottlieb recounted.

“So you have to ask yourself, if we have transparency, we have efficiency and we stand out as a beacon of light — if it’s not broken, what are we fixing?”

Added Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer, “These election proposals are not solutions. They are problems in and of themselves.”

The vote-by-mail changes are part of a broader slate of proposals including a desire to cut down on “ballot harvesting” — that is, allowing individuals to help deliver ballots on behalf of other voters — as well as regulating ballot drop boxes.

“It’s about time that we outlaw the possession of anybody else’s ballot but your own in the state of Florida,” Ingoglia said.

Republicans cite the need to protect against voter fraud. But Democrats cried foul on that rationale Friday.

“Incidents of voter fraud over the last decade in Florida have been extremely rare, and virtually no cases were reported during the 2020 election cycle,” Jones said.

Farmer said those incidents are “imaginary” and that Republicans’ motivations are “simple.”

“Democrats outpaced Republicans in vote by mail,” Farmer said. “Vote-by-mail is something that Democrats have now embraced because frankly, we are the more COVID-cautious party in the state of Florida.”

Wasserman Schultz even went so far as to accuse Republicans of furthering the voter-fraud conspiracies that motivated Donald Trump supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol last month.

“Right-wing Trump loyalists assaulted our democracy on Jan. 6 using baseless lies about a stolen election to justify a lawless, violent attack. Now, elected Republicans in state legislatures across America are peddling the same deceitful claims to continue the attacks on our democracy,” Wasserman Schultz argued.

“Jan. 6 rioters used bats, guns and flagpoles to assault our democracy. And now, elected Republicans are deploying manufactured fears of fraud to file hundreds of alarming bills restricting voters’ access to the ballot.”

It’s unclear precisely how the changes would affect each party, as Republicans are traditionally more reliant on those mail ballots. Was 2020 an aberration due to the pandemic? Or was it a sign Democrats will be more reliant on the method going forward?

Jones argued the GOP may be shooting themselves in the foot should the trend reverse itself.

The Republicans are building their own Frankenstein,” he said. “This is going to turn on them, I promise you.”

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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