House OKs polarizing bill to raise ‘guardrails’ on early voting

Democrats say the bill is based on former President Donald Trump's "big lie."

The House has passed a controversial bill to place what Republicans call “guardrails” on the election and early voting process.

By a 77-40 party-line vote Wednesday, the House voted to kick the measure (SB 90) back to the Senate.

The proposal, carried in the House by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, is among an onslaught of elections-related legislation being considered or passed by Republican-led legislatures throughout the country. The GOP-backed measures follow former President Donald Trump’s election loss to President Joe Biden in November, as millions of people — including in Florida — opted to vote by mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The package, carried in the Senate by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, addresses election supervisors’ use of ballot drop boxes, signature matching on mail-in ballots and a host of other technical issues related to voting-by-mail and election administration.

Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, said Florida “can’t rest on (its) laurels” despite a successful 2020 cycle when announcing his vision for election changes. Democrats argued the bill is based on Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from him through last-minute rule changes and widespread election fraud tied to mail-in voting.

An amendment Ingoglia filed at 1:33 a.m. Tuesday, hours after the Senate passed the bill 27-13 on Monday, would leave some Senate priorities, but bring certain House provisions back.

Democrats and Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes voted against the bill in the Senate.

During debate on Wednesday, Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith criticized Ingoglia for filing a strike-all the morning of the bill’s initial consideration in the House. He called the measure “a case study in democracy in the dark.”

“The sponsor repeatedly said yesterday, ‘well, if you read the strike-all, if you read the strike-all, if you read the strike-all,'” Smith continued. “Who had time to read the strike-all that was filed at two o’clock in the morning? No one.”

For the first time in Florida, Democrats used vote-by-mail more than Republicans. Democrats contend the election bill would make it harder for people, particularly disadvantaged Floridians, to vote.

West Palm Beach Democratic Rep. Omari Hardy compared the series of regulations to the Jim Crow laws of the late 1800s and early 1900s to reinforce segregation, including by adding voting hurdles that disproportionately affected Black voters.

“This bill is the revival of Jim Crow in this state,” he continued. “Whether the sponsors’ admitted it or not, that’s what it is.”

Several provisions respond to what “Democrat strongholds” have done, Ingoglia said, including the 150-foot no-solicitation zone and ballot harvesting laws.

“If the opposition says that we are creating barriers to voting, those barriers already exist in other states, but we never hear a peep from the opposition about those laws,” he continued. “It’s only when Republicans in the great state of Florida make sure that we want to keep our elections secure.”

The bill would limit how many ballots a person could carry. People could carry an immediate family member’s ballot, including those of grandparents. It would also allow people to carry two other ballots in addition to their own and their immediate family members’.

That follows DeSantis’ call to prevent ballot harvesting by volunteers. Ingoglia couldn’t point to specific examples of ballot harvesting in the 2020 election.

“Just the fact that they weren’t caught doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not happening,” Ingoglia said Thursday. “But having said that, what is wrong with putting guardrails, making sure that we are making this stuff as (hard as) possible to cheat on an election but keeping the access?”

Democrats contend that measure would affect voters who can’t take their own ballots to the drop boxes, such as voters with disabilities.

Voters would still need an approved ID to vote. With the proposed law, that would apply even when returning a vote-by-mail ballot.

The measure would expand the no solicitation zone around polling places and drop boxes to 150 feet. Within that area, people could not attempt to solicit votes, including by handing out items to voters. Election officials and volunteers could distribute items, including water, when offering “nonpartisan assistance.”

That’s in contrast to bans recently signed into law in Georgia, which have drawn opposition from corporations. Tampa Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart called the bill “Georgia-like.”

The Peach State is facing corporate blowback for its new law. In Florida, DeSantis has said the state wouldn’t yield to “woke” corporations and their interests.

“Please do not Georgia my Florida,” Miami Democratic Rep. Mike Grieco said.

“Put the hyperbole and the demagoguery aside,” Neptune Beach Republican Rep. Cord Byrd said in response to Democrats’ references to Georgia.

Citing polling, Ingoglia said a majority of Floridians support the measure.

“Major League Baseball and other big corporations were starting to boycott them until people started realizing what was actually in the bill,” Ingoglia said.

The House amendment adds requirements for hourly reporting on voter turnout on Election Day after polls close.

A ban on outside dollars being used by election supervisors, sometimes called “Zuckerbucks” after the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Tech and Civic Life last year issued grants to elections offices nationwide, is included in the House amendment.

One provision in the Senate version written by Sen. Gary Farmer, then the Democratic Leader, and Sen. Debbie Mayfield, the Republican Leader, would prevent 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.

The House version does not include that, Ingoglia said, because he viewed that language and similar proposals as “problematic,” particularly the requirement that a prospective candidate who wants to run as non-party affiliated must have not been affiliated for 365 days.

“I think that’s unconstitutional, because how can you tell somebody who just moved to Florida — who hasn’t picked the party, that isn’t governed by party rules — that they can’t run for office because the Legislature, in their infinite wisdom, said that you have to wait a year in order to do so,” Ingoglia said.

In a statement after the bill passed the House, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone statewide-elected Democrat in Florida, criticized the vote.

“Across the country, we’re witnessing the most regressive and wide-reaching voter suppression plan in decades, and it’s happening here in Florida. SB 90 adds roadblocks to voting, restricts drop boxes, and deters people of color from casting ballots — it’s undemocratic, ugly and it cannot stand. Priority legislation for Florida Republicans is oppressive overreach for Floridians,” Fried said.

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.

One comment

  • PeterH

    April 29, 2021 at 11:28 am

    Republicans fear is real. More Florida Democrats used the mail in voting option than ever before! Sign up today for your mail in ballot for the next several election cycles. We need MORE AMERICANS VOTING …. not less!

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