Republican senators backed off their proposal to eliminate ballot boxes but weren’t able to formalize those changes.
The Senate Rules Committee got through most of the discussion around Sen. Dennis Baxley‘s election law overhaul (SB 90) on Wednesday, but the committee ran out of time to cast a vote on the measure.
Questions, debate and testimony on the bill ran for more than three hours. That followed more than an hour of discussions on seaports that dragged out the committee after 20 people spoke in opposition.
But the election bill had 19 amendments in addition to Baxley’s own amendment rewriting the bill, and 70 people were slated to speak on it.
Committee Chair Kathleen Passidomo told members the committee would reconvene later in the week or next week to consider the bill.
Baxley’s amendment brought the Senate package closer to a House version and became more palatable to voting rights advocates by preserving mail-in ballot drop boxes, first used in Florida during the 2020 election cycle.
Democrats contend the remaining bill will still disenfranchise minority voters.
Republicans have called for stronger election laws to prevent election fraud they say happened in other states and fear could happen in Florida. Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida “can’t rest on (its) laurels” when announcing his vision for election reforms.
Democrats called the measure a solution in search of a problem, and Baxley seemed to agree, adding that he wanted to preserve the “chain of responsibility” for handling ballots.
“I’m not trying to present a case that there’s a problem,” he said. “I’m presenting a case that we can prevent ever having a problem.”
However, when answering a question about the need for physical, “wet signatures,” as required in Baxley’s rewritten bill, the Ocala Republican shared an anecdote from a constituent who was told they had already voted when they tried to cast a ballot.
“Maybe it was real. Maybe it wasn’t real, but they sure thought it was real,” Baxley said. “That’s the perception I want to shift, is that things are not out of control.”
Most amendments were shot down, but among the successful ones was an amendment by Sens. Gary Farmer, the Democratic Leader, and Debbie Mayfield, the Republican Leader, preventing third-party candidates from switching their party affiliation at the last minute. That language was inspired by a developing story from the 2020 election in which former Sen. Frank Artiles enlisted a third party candidate to spoil the election for an incumbent Democrat, according to law enforcement.
“I think that that glitch or loophole in the law has contributed to some of the chicanery that has been occurring with regard to these third party candidates,” Farmer said.
Bipartisanship largely ended there. An hour and a half later, Farmer objected to answers offered by Baxley regarding the bill’s requirement that voters request mail-in ballots every two years. According to Baxley, repeating concerns raised by DeSantis, Florida would “wind up with ballots going where nobody lives anymore” under the current four-year requirement.
“These are the most nonsensical, off point answers I think I’ve ever heard to questions in my life,” Farmer said.
Under the House measure, supervisors could continue to use drop boxes at their offices if they are “continuously monitored in person” during regular office hours. Those drop boxes could be made available after hours only if they are “secured from tampering and monitored by video surveillance.” Copies of the videos would have to be provided to candidates or political parties within 24 hours of requests.
Baxley’s amendment would limit the use of drop boxes to the hours of early voting and does not contain an after-hours video-recording provision.
The amendment also does not include sections of the House plan that would require people to show identification when submitting ballots at drop boxes or sign an “attestation” that the ballots are theirs or belong to someone who’s given them written permission to handle the ballots.
Both Baxley’s proposal and the House bill (HB 7041), sponsored by Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia, would subject supervisors to $25,000 civil penalties if drop boxes are available when early voting is not underway. And like the House measure, Baxley’s amendment would allow individuals to drop off mail-in ballots for immediate family members, including grandchildren, as well as two other people.
The House bill awaits a hearing in its final panel, the State Affairs Committee.