House Republicans’ election law updates clear first hurdle

ballots
Unlike the Senate version, the House version preserves drop boxes.

A House panel has approved its draft of a bill to build on Florida’s election laws after what Republicans called a successful 2020 cycle.

The House Public Integrity and Elections Committee’s proposed bill, carried by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, touches on ballot security, accessibility and voting transparency. The panel approved the measure by an 11-6 party-line vote on Monday.

That comes despite Republicans, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, touting Florida’s 2020 election cycle as one of the smoothest and most secure in recent history. Ingoglia helped spearhead the state’s original drop box law.

“Many of the reforms in the election bill we passed in 2019 helped to contribute to this success,” Ingoglia told the committee. “But we should never rest on our laurels and we should never pass up an opportunity to make a good thing even better.”

The 2020 election cycle was the first cycle that voters got to use drop boxes. Democrats say the bill creates hurdles for voters, but Ingoglia said it would keep elections offices from writing their own rules for monitoring drop boxes and handling ballots.

“If they are going to use an excuse to do carte blanche, whatever they want to regarding drop boxes, the Florida Legislature has the authority to come back and say ‘no, this is what the intent is, this is how it’s going to be used,'” Ingoglia said. “And if we’re being overly prescriptive on it, it’s because they were being overly flippant on how they were being administered in the last election.”

According to the results of a survey the committee sent to county elections offices, about 10,000 ballots had missing or mismatched signatures. That total came from the 54 of Florida’s 67 county elections offices that responded. But that is a fraction, just 0.09%, of the 11 million voters who cast ballots in Florida.

But election fraud exists, said Neptune Beach Republican Rep. Cord Byrd, a lawyer who has conducted work on election law. Any election fraud is election fraud and should be stopped, he suggested, referring to the term “overwhelming fraud” sometimes used in the media to discount Republicans’ election concerns..

“That’s like saying, well, I robbed the bank, but because I didn’t steal all the money and put the bank out of business, that it’s OK,” Byrd said.

Unlike the Senate version (SB 90), carried by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, the PCB would keep the existing ballot drop box legislation while adding monitoring requirements. Voting sites could only keep boxes available to the public during voting hours, and boxes must always be monitored by either Supervisor of Elections personnel or a law enforcement officer during those hours. During off-hours, offices could use security cameras to monitor secured boxes.

DeSantis has asked the Legislature to prevent ballot harvesting by limiting the number of ballots a person can carry to a drop box, among other proposals. Per that request, people would have to show an ID and affirm that, if they don’t share an address with the voter as registered, they are an immediate family member.

People carrying a ballot that doesn’t belong to them or an immediate family member would face a first degree misdemeanor.

That raised concerns from Democrats such as Tallahassee Rep. Allison Tant, who feared it would prevent homebound Floridians without family members or people in hospitals from voting. Ingoglia remained open to adjustments addressing those concerns.

Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis feared additional monitoring at drop boxes and ballot-carrying rules would create long lines at drop boxes. Ingoglia, however, dismissed that concern as well as repeated accusations that Republicans’ election proposals are suppressing votes. He pointed to the bipartisan praise for the smoothness of Florida’s 2020 cycle.

“I sort of discount when I hear that word, voter suppression,” Ingoglia said. “I don’t think it’s voter suppression because, at the end of the day, especially when it comes to vote-by-mail, all somebody has to do is put a stamp on it and mail it back. And you could just basically walk to your mail box, put the flag up, and mail it back.”

Democrats also raised concerns that the bill doesn’t address the Frank Artiles case, which snowballed last week when the former Senator was arrested and charged with backing the spoiler candidate in Senate District 37 last year.

The bill would also prohibit elections offices from sending vote-by-mail ballots en masse without explicit requests from voters, requests that under the bill would have to be renewed every General Election cycle. That would effectively require people who want vote-by-mail ballots to request them every two years rather than every four.

Ingoglia said the current four-year requirement was the wrong approach. Floridians stay at a home for an average of 5.5 years, he noted. Additionally, it forces more interactions between voters and elections officials.

“I think once we go to two election cycles, I think what we’re doing is, it’s a perverse disincentive for people to engage in the political process,” Ingoglia said. “I believe that moving it to one election cycle will keep the Supervisor of Elections office engaged with the voters, the voters engaged with the Supervisor of Elections office and we will have better elections.”

The measure also strives to place additional security on people’s voter registrations by requiring a driver’s license number or the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security Number in addition to the current name and date of birth requirement.

The bill would also prohibit those who administer elections from receiving private funding to conduct election activities. Additionally, Canvassing Board members’ names would have to be posted online.

The committee filed their proposed language on Thursday and made mostly technical changes to it on Monday. The legislation will next be given a bill number and assigned to committees.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.



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