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Florida GOP Lawmakers Advance Voting-Law Changes

New restrictions on drop boxes, other changes draw criticism; vote expected Wednesday

By Jon Kamp and Alexa Corse | Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2021

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature is advancing a measure that would tighten vote-by-mail rules, marking the latest state-level push to change election rules after voters flocked to remote voting during the pandemic.

With three days left in the legislative session, Florida’s House is expected to vote on an election-law bill on Wednesday. It is the House’s version of a bill cleared in the Senate mostly along party lines on Monday, over Democratic opposition.

Democrats are broadly against the proposals, which include new rules around ballot drop boxes. Democrats say the bill will create unnecessary hurdles for voters and say Republicans are trying to suppress votes. Republicans say they aim to maintain access to the polls while also setting new guardrails to boost security.

“We are not restricting anyone’s access to the ballot,” said Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican who introduced the latest House version of the legislation through an amendment, on the House floor Tuesday. “It is extremely easy to vote in the state of Florida. We’re just making sure that no one is gaming the system.”

GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed for election-law changes, including several of the proposals being advanced. A House-approved bill would have to go to the Senate again before heading to the governor’s desk.

Republicans in many states have said they are pushing election changes to improve security and boost voter confidence. Sweeping changes GOP lawmakers passed in Georgia in late March set off a political firestorm and blowback from major businesses.

Democrats say Republican voters’ confidence was shaken by unsupported fraud claims pressed by former President Donald Trump and his allies. No court or election authority found evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Though Mr. Trump railed against states that rapidly expanded mail-in voting during the pandemic, he made a point of encouraging his Florida supporters to request a mail ballot, for years a popular option there.

Florida has a history of election controversies, particularly its 2000 presidential recount battle. But after years of reforms, by 2020 the state was called a model for relatively smooth elections by some election scholars as well as Republicans. Notably, election officials were allowed to begin processing mail ballots weeks before Election Day, enabling the state to report results more quickly than others, avoiding a long wait in which uncertainty could spread.

Florida Republicans’ proposals include restrictions on activity that could influence voters within 150 feet of a polling place or drop box. Mr. Ingoglia, the Republican lawmaker, said the rules are intended to protect voters, and the bill says election officials can provide nonpartisan assistance within the “no-solicitation zone.” Opponents of the measure say the rules are vague and will prohibit things like handing out water on hot days.

The bill requires that drop boxes are manned by election workers at all times. It says they can only be used during a county’s early voting hours, with the exception of secure boxes at county election supervisors’ offices. The bill also sets new identification requirements for people using drop boxes.

These staffing requirements create logistical challenges for county elections officials, critics say, while turning a convenience for voters into something more akin to staffed polling places.

The bill “makes it harder to vote, especially by mail,” said Michelle Kanter Cohen, senior counsel at the Fair Elections Center, a voting-advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.


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