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Florida Republicans Pass Voting Limits in Broad Elections Bill

April 30, 2021 by Dan McCue
In this Jan. 17, 2019, file photo Rep. Matt Gaetz, left, and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez listen, right, look on as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference at Kraft Azalea Park in Winter Park, Fla. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

TALLAHASSEE — The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed a sweeping election overhaul bill on Thursday that established a wide range of new voting restrictions in one of the nation’s key battleground states.

The bill makes Florida the first major swing state won by former President Donald Trump to pass significant voting limits and the first to pass new voting restrictions since a similar move in Georgia inspired a backlash from many of America’s leading corporations.

“There was no problem in Florida,” said Kara Gross, the legislative director and senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. 

In fact, Trump carried the state last year by more than three percentage points and other Republicans also performed strongly.

“Everything worked as it should,” Gross added. “The only reason they’re doing this is to make it harder to vote.”

The new bill would limit the use of drop boxes; add more identification requirements for those requesting absentee ballots; require voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, rather than receive them automatically through an absentee voting list; limit who could collect and drop off ballots; and further empower partisan observers during the ballot-counting process. The legislation would also expand a current rule that prohibits outside groups from providing items “with the intent to influence” voters within a 150-foot radius of a polling location.

Republicans in the Florida legislature  argued the new provisions were needed to make future elections “more secure.”

Democrats and voting rights experts, meanwhile,  said many of the new measures would disproportionately affect voters of color. 

The bill passed largely along a party-line vote in both chambers, 77 to 40 in the House and 23 to 17 in the Senate, though one Republican state senator, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, voted against it.

After Thursday night’s vote, the ACLU’s Gross said, “With the passage SB90 tonight, Florida has become another willful accomplice to voter suppression. 

“However, creating barriers to the ballot is not a new tactic. Whether it was counting bubbles on a bar of soap during the Jim Crow era, or unnecessary ID laws today, some politicians have always tried to suppress the right to vote,” she said. “Limiting ballot drop box availability, creating hardships for individuals to request and return a vote-by-mail ballot, and inciting voter challenges are purposeful tactics to limit participation. Like its predecessors, the unnecessary restrictions imposed by this bill will disproportionately impact voters of color, voters with disabilities, elderly voters, and low-income voters. Simply put, SB90 is undemocratic to its core. … It is a sad day for our democracy.” 

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has indicated his support for the voting overhaul and is expected to sign it. 

As noted above, the legislation follows a similar law passed recently by Georgia, and comes as Texas, Arizona and other states led by Republicans pursue limits on access to the ballot. 

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., responded Friday to the developments in Florida by saying “Once again we are seeing Republicans across the country, this time in Florida, restricting the right to vote under the guise of maintaining ‘election integrity.’ 

“Make no mistake: the legislation that passed the Florida Legislature late last night is a thinly-veiled attempt to suppress access to the ballot box – particularly for Americans of color – and allow for continued Republican control across the state,” Hoyer continued. “I vehemently disagree with the very premise upon which this legislation was drafted – there was not widespread fraud in the 2020 election, and continuing this known falsehood imperils the rights upon which hundreds of thousands of Americans have fought for generations. These same lies are what spurred an insurrection at the Capitol not four months ago in an attempt to overthrow our government.

“As President Biden said on Wednesday evening: ‘…If we are to truly restore the soul of America – we need to protect the sacred right to vote’ …  These harmful attacks by Republican-led legislatures underscore the urgent need for voting rights protections nationwide,” he continued. 

“The Democratic- led House of Representatives has taken numerous actions to protect the right to vote, including passing H.R. 1, the For The People Act, within the first 100 days of the 117th Congress. I was proud to bring this critical legislation to the Floor and work to pass it. This bill includes measures such as enacting automatic voter registration across the country and expanding early and weekend voting hours to ensure the American people’s voices are heard and counted. I urge the Senate to take up and pass H.R. 1 as soon as possible,” Hoyer concluded.

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