Despite applauding the election process in 2020, Senate Republicans are moving forward with changes to the vote-by-mail process.
“I’m not a person that likes to wait for a big problem,” the bill’s sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley said. “I’m all about staying ahead of whatever problems could develop.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis offered support for the legislation, which effectively bans ballot drop boxes, in a press conference Wednesday.
“Mail it in or just drop it off, but to just leave a drop box there that’s not attended, I didn’t even know that this had been in the law. And when I found out, I said, that’s a problem. Ballot harvesting all that – you got to watch out for,” DeSantis said.
Democrats are labeling the tactics outlined in Baxley’s bill (SB 90) as voter suppression.
It comes amid efforts in various parts of the country by Republicans to place new restrictions on voting by mail, after former President Donald Trump attacked the process during his unsuccessful reelection campaign last year. It also comes after Florida Democrats used vote-by-mail ballots heavily in November.
“Adding roadblocks to mail ballots and banning ballot drop boxes will confuse and disenfranchise millions of voters. It’s clear that Florida Republicans’ latest voter suppression scheme, which is opposed by county election officials, is designed to silence the collective voices of millions,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement.
Baxley seemed to resent the voter suppression label.
“They may not like what we’re doing, they may think it’s wrong, but the attributing of motive and assigning motives to people, some days even I don’t know why I did something. That’s God’s work. I would appreciate some room on that,” Baxley told reporters.
Under the latest committee substitute added to the bill, only immediate family members may pick up or drop off vote-by-mail ballots instead of allowing a broader “designee.”
“Do you have any idea how many people, like my dear mother, don’t have immediate family members living nearby, thus they won’t be able to have their ballots picked up for them,” former Senator and Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays said while testifying Wednesday.
The addition limiting proxy vote pick-up and drop-off would affect the state’s top Republican — Trump. Trump has voted by mail twice in Florida and both times has had a designee both pick up and drop off his ballot.
Still, the additional measure did not sway Republican support in the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee. The committee substitute was adopted and the bill passed on a party line vote of 4-2.
The legislation also bans ballot drop-off boxes, limits vote-by-mail applications to one election cycle and requires everyone who signed up for mail ballots in 2020 to reapply to get them in 2022.
Hayes, speaking in his role as Lake County Supervisor of Elections, estimated the changes would cost $14 to $16 million.
“In a state as big as we are with a $99 billion budget, we ought to make sure we fund it, and if they need some help with that, I’m willing to have that conversation,” Baxley said.
Mark Earley, Leon County Supervisor of Elections and vice president of the nonpartisan Association of Supervisors of Elections, described the group as “vehemently” against the bill.
“This bill appears to my perspective to be setting us up for another 2012, where we have chaos and long lines and confusion,” Burley said.
Burley also said ballot drop boxes are a secure form of voting.
The committee’s Democrats spoke against the bill during debate.
“The only thing this bill will bring is more costly lawsuits,” Sen. Linda Stewart said. “This seems like a big overreach to me.”
“Why are we doing things that will create voter confusion and rollback the clock in Florida,” Sen. Victor Torres said. “We should be focused on the expansion of vote-by-mail.”
But Republicans remained in support of what they said was a bill to avoid voter fraud.
“We want people to vote, but at the end of the day it’s about making it as easy as possible to vote and as hard as possible to cheat, and I think that’s what this bill does.” Sen. Joe Gruters said.
The Senate vote came less than a month after DeSantis, a close political ally of Trump, held a news conference in Palm Beach County to call for changes in the vote-by-mail process. Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls immediately supported DeSantis on the issue.
The Senate Bill will now head to its final committee stop in Rules.
Content from The News Service of Florida was used in this report.