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House Rolls Out Proposed Election Changes

I voted by mail sticker on pink shirt
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House rolls out potential election changes

Tensions over changes to election laws escalated in the Capital Monday as Republicans advanced major revisions to voting by mail and counting ballots. As Steve Bousquet reports, those changes drew sharp criticism from Democrats and election supervisors as well.

A 44-page bill filled with changes to the state elections code surfaced only last Thursday afternoon and was publicly debated for the first time Monday morning in the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee. The bill sponsor is Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R- Spring Hill, a former state Republican Party chairman.

"The question of trust came up, that people trust our elections. And for the most part, they do. But what we’ve seen over the last two, three election cycles is an erosion of that trust. And it spans across all parties…so I would stand here and say our constituents are demanding more integrity and more transparency in our elections.”

Among many other changes, the bill would require tighter security and mandatory photo IDs for voters who use drop boxes, and mail ballots could be returned only by an immediate family member or someone who can prove residency at the same address. Election supervisors could face $25,000 fines if they use drop boxes without in-person surveillance.

Supervisors have many problems with the bill and predict it will cause confusion and long lines at the polls next year. In an open letter to lawmakers, they said it, “risks destroying the voter confidence we have worked so hard to earn.”

“I think this bill introduces a lot of partisan ability to intercede in the process, and gives a tool to partisan folks out there…it opens it up to making the process… less secure because people can start challenging for helter-skelter reasons and political agendas can come into play, to challenge those mail-in ballots,” said Leon County Supervisor Mark Earley. He called the bill burdensome without any proof of problems in the last election.

One potentially far-reaching change would allow operatives in both political parties to object to a decision by trained election staff members or canvassing boards on whether a signature on a mail ballot envelope matches that voter’s signature on file. Allowing case-by-case objections could greatly delay the reporting of election results, Earley said.

The bill requires counties to post images of disputed mail ballots on their websites. Democrats and supervisors raised security concerns about that, including the possible increases in identity theft. Democrats noted that the bill does not have any cost estimate to Florida’s 67 counties.

“This is unnecessary, cumbersome, and at this stage, denies people simple access to voting with an over-reach of security measures and a waste of taxpayer dollars. And I keep saying it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars because we have no idea what the cost is going to be,” said Rep. Tracie Davis, D- Jacksonville, the ranking Democrat on the House committee.

A coalition of advocacy groups is also formally opposed the bill, including All Voting is Local, Common Cause, ACLU, NAACP, and the League of Women Voters. As the session moves along, the House will have to reach agreement with the Senate, which has a more modest bill, but which abolishes the use of vote by mail drop boxes … another major source of controversy.