Photo via Twitter/Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed an elections overhaul that was one of the most-contentious issues of the 2021 legislative session, as opponents threatened lawsuits and argued the measure would disenfranchise voters.
DeSantis, who will be on the ballot in 2022 as he seeks a second term as governor, signed the bill (SB 90) on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends” after an event with supporters in West Palm Beach.
Flanked by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez and Republican lawmakers, DeSantis during the television appearance called the bill the “strongest election integrity measures in the country” and said it “keeps us ahead of the curve” after Florida had a smooth 2020 election.
“We’re not resting on our laurels, and me signing this bill here says, ‘Florida, your vote counts, your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy,’” DeSantis said.
DeSantis and GOP lawmakers argued that the bill, which addresses issues such as voting by mail, is needed to ensure secure elections. But Democrats and many voting-rights groups said the bill would suppress voting after a November election in which Democrats far outdistanced Republicans in voting by mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numerous groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, sent a letter Wednesday to DeSantis calling on him to veto the measure.
“The Legislature has passed and delivered to you for a decision SB 90, which will create barriers for eligible Floridians to exercise their freedom to vote by making mail ballots less accessible and more difficult to cast, severely limiting voter assistance, and making it more difficult for community voter registration drives to do their critical outreach,” the letter said. “We ask you to do the right thing by Florida voters, stand by your pride in Florida’s 2020 election administration and veto this harmful bill.”
Republican lawmakers in many states have pushed for new elections restrictions as former President Donald Trump has continued to falsely blame “rigged” and fraudulent elections for Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in November. Courts rejected numerous lawsuits in which Trump and his supporters challenged the handling of the November elections. Trump defeated Biden handily in Florida.
The Florida bill addresses a series of issues, including the use of drop boxes for mail-in ballots. Drop boxes became a flashpoint last year, as elections officials wrangled with DeSantis’ administration over the location of the boxes and whether they needed to be manned at all times.
The bill will allow supervisors to use drop boxes at early voting sites and “permanent” branch offices, so long as the boxes are staffed by their employees. Among other changes, the bill will require voters to request mail-in ballots more frequently than in the past.
Also, DeSantis said the bill addresses issues such as preventing ballot “harvesting,” which involves people and groups being able to collect and deliver ballots for voters.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, criticized the bill this week, saying it would disenfranchise voters.
“They came for your voting rights with SB 90, limiting mail ballots and drop boxes which proved essential during a global pandemic,” Fried said.
Even before DeSantis signed the bill, some opponents were threatening to challenge the changes in court. The League of United Latin American Citizens sent out a news release early Thursday saying it plans to file a lawsuit against the state.
“These changes are deliberately designed to affect mostly people of color and are being enacted at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis,” Domingo Garcia, national president of the group known as LULAC, said in a prepared statement. “Voter suppression aimed at American citizens just because they are brown or black is disgraceful, un-American, and frankly unprincipled.”
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