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DeSantis Poised To Sign Election Changes Over Outcry From Democrats

Voted By Mail sticker on pink shirt
Trisha Moynihan
WFSU Public Media
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he will sign a bill amending state elections law.

Florida’s election made headlines in November, something not unusual because the state usually does—for the number of problems it often has administering balloting. But last year was different, as the news was largely positive. Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken credit for the nearly problem-free cycle and Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia says the election law changes sent to the governor build that success.

“We have guardrails on in-person voting. We have zero guardrails on vote-by-mail. All we’re doing is putting guardrails. We’re not restricting anyone’s access to the ballot," Ingoglia said in a debate earlier this week over the proposal.

But Democratic State Rep. Tracie Davis, a former deputy elections supervisor for Duval County asks, why fix what’s not broken?

This bill, this amendment, is a slap in the supervisors of elections faces after an election that you say...was one of the best we’ve had," she said.

The Florida House and Senate debated the bill much of the last week of the legislative session, with the Republican majority coming to an agreement late Thursday night. The final version of the bill is different from the original but it still contains language around limiting drop boxes to early voting only and mandated they be monitored in-person. Vote-by-mail requests would be good for one election cycle only, not two, as currently allowed which means voters will have to request mail-ballots every cycle.

Other changes include fewer days for dropbox availability; new identification requirements for vote-by-mail ballot requests; and financial penalties for supervisors who leave drop boxes unguarded.

“For the first time, Democrats outvoted Republicans in vote-by-mail ballots," said Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton. "So what’s the first thing that happens in this bill? We change vote by mail….and so that’s what we feel the intent is of this bill. That’s what we feel the intent is of this bill.”

The proposal limits who can turn in vote-by-mail ballots, restricts people from handing out items to voters within 150 feet of a polling site, and also would allow the governor to appoint replacements for state and local officials who resign to run for other offices. This late addition caught the eye of Broward Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones. Broward is the home seat of the late Congressman Alcee Hastings, whose death has set off a scramble for his seat.

“Eliminating the resign-to-run provision is a total power grab. Under current law, when a local elected resign to run for office the voters fill that seat by holding an election," Jones said. "The rules should not be coming from Tallahassee. The people should be the ones who decide who they want to represent them.”

The proposal changes the signature verification process and contains language around who can observe the ballot counting process. Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, notes there are similar election proposals across the county and that they follow former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

“It’s not like you don’t know that we know that 37 other states are doing the same thing as what we’re doing here. It’s not that we think that you or us or this legislature is leading in this regard. We don’t think that we’re leaders. This is not leading. This is following," he said.

Republican Senator Travis Hutson pushed back, saying that while Florida’s last election went well, lawmakers shouldn’t be satisfied with that.

“I believe that every legal vote should count. I believe one fraudulent vote is too many. And I am trying to protect the sanctity of our elections," he said.

Lawmakers cleared the proposal on party-line votes in both chambers. It’s one of the last major priority pieces of legislation and among the most contentious approved in the 2021 lawmaking session.

Updated: May 2, 2021 at 8:30 AM EDT
Edited to clean up copy, correct punctuation.
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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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