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Senate Rules Committee To Revisit Election Bill After Time Runs Out

black and white photo of people standing in line in a gymnasium to vote
Bryan Jones via flickr
Flickr: bwjones

Florida’s Senate Rules Committee is preparing to scale down a proposal that would have done away with ballot drop boxes in the name of election reform. Lawmakers will continue to discuss the bill Friday or next week, after time ran out in the committee before a vote could be taken. The plan is still under fire from Democrats and voting rights groups who say the rest of the bill makes it harder for Floridians to vote.

Sen. Dennis Baxley’s (R-Ocala) bill isn’t so much a response to Florida’s elections—which went largely problem free during the last cycle, but to what he describes as issues in other states and future problems:

“No, I’m not trying to present a case that there’s a problem," Baxley said in response to questions by Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer. "I’m presenting a case that we can prevent ever having a problem."

For more than two hours Wednesday, Baxley battled amendments to his bill, and defended it against accusations that the proposal would disenfranchise voters. The 2020 Election cycle saw a surge in overall voter participation, fueled largely by more Black voters casting ballots. Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy worries the proposed changes will result in fewer people being able to vote.

“Everyone signs up to vote electronically to vote now…and now we’re going to eliminate all those people…who’ve signed up electronically. I’ve never seen anything like this and I can’t believe we’re sitting here debating this, but as Brian Pitts would say, ‘ya’ll are going to do what you’re going to do anyway’. I don’t support this. I think it’s egregious. I’m a no," Bracy said.

Bracy is especially concerned about provisions that would require signature's to match those already on file with local elections supervisors, and are less than four years old. That, says Bracy, precludes people who may have registered to vote electronically and have electronic signatures which could be very different from their "wet" signatures.

The newest iteration of Baxley’s proposal allows supervisors to use ballot drop boxes only during early voting. They wouldn’t be available after-hours, and, the bill requires additional verification for people picking up ballots for others, and expands the number of people who can directly observe ballot verification—allowing people to be in “very close” proximity to canvassers but not defining what “very close” is. Mark Earley, Leon County Supervisor of Elections and vice president of the statewide association, calls the signature matching provisions disruptive.

“That potentially is going to greatly disrupt our ability to validate vote by mail ballots. The likelihood of it disenfranchising voters," he said before being cut off by Committee Chairwoman Kathleen Passidomo.

The proposal places limitations on what can be given to voters standing in line, though there is some exemption for elections volunteers or office employees from that part. While most speakers on the bill oppose it, the measure did get some non-lawmaker support.

“We shouldn’t compromise our election process in the name of convenience. I support Sen. Baxley’s bill because it makes VBM more secure and on par with in-person voting," said Helena Sims, speaking during public comment.

Passidomo says the committee could take the bill up again as soon as Friday.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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