A bill House Republicans say would improve election security passed its penultimate committee.
The House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to advance that priority legislation (HB 7041), carried by Spring Hill Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia.
Ingoglia has said it would keep elections offices from writing their own rules for monitoring drop boxes and handling ballots.
The bill 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, first used during the 2020 election cycle.
“We should (take) every election that passes as an opportunity to look back and identify what we can do better,” Ingoglia said.
Democrats and other critics lauded Ingoglia for improving the bill based on their concerns. Still, they say hurdles remain.
Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis thanked Ingoglia for listening to stakeholders and updating the bill’s provisions accordingly.
“This bill has changed from the last time I have seen it and witnessed it, and it’s going into a decent direction,” Davis said. “However, there are still very restrictive things in this bill … but I want us to get to a point where we’re both, all of our caucuses, are on the same page with this.”
Unlike the Senate version (SB 90), carried by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, the House version would keep the existing ballot drop box legislation while adding monitoring requirements. However, ballot boxes must be physically secure, and ballots cannot be added or moved less than 30 days before an election for what Ingoglia described as transparency reasons.
Voting sites could only keep boxes available to the public during voting hours, and boxes must always be monitored by Supervisor of Elections personnel during those hours. During off-hours, offices could use security cameras to monitor secured boxes.
The original version would have allowed law enforcement officers to do the monitoring.
Voters would have to present an I.D. or sign a declaration to drop off a ballot.
A provision removed in the update would have required signatures that didn’t match the state’s records to be posted online.
One of the most controversial provisions in the bill would expand the protected range around ballot boxes to 150 feet, up from 100 feet. People could not hand out materials, like water, or otherwise influence voters within that range.
Candidates would potentially not be allowed within the 150 feet.
“I would also think that if Ron DeSantis started walking up and down the line, handing out stuff to the voters in line within 150 feet, I would dare to say that your nominee would say that he was probably trying to influence the voter,” Ingoglia said.
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.
The original bill limited people from dropping off ballots that weren’t their own or an immediate family member’s. The version advanced Thursday added grandchildren to the definition of immediate family. Additionally, it would allow voters to carry two other ballots in addition to their own and their immediate family members’.
People carrying a ballot that they are not authorized to would face a first degree misdemeanor.
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 has said the current four-year requirement was the wrong approach.
To make changes to a person’s voter registration, they would have to provide 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.
Republicans are pushing for the legislation to stiffen election law, what they say is an effort to protect against voter fraud.
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 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.
Baxley recently defended his bill in the wake of backlash Georgia is facing for passing a similar bill, referring to “cancel culture.”
Baxley’s bill was slated for a hearing in its final committee stop on Tuesday but was postponed.