The coronavirus caused a major increase in the number of Floridians who voted by mail in November, a process state Republicans have championed for years as they gained control of the House, Senate and governor's mansion.
But while Florida's elections ran smoothly last year, GOP lawmakers are pushing ahead with a wide-ranging proposal to revamp vote-by-mail laws, including banning the use of drop boxes and taking aim at a practice known as "ballot harvesting."
The bill, SB 90, comes amid efforts in various parts of the country by Republicans to place new restrictions on voting by mail, after former President Donald Trump attacked the process during his unsuccessful re-election campaign last year. It also comes after Florida Democrats used vote-by-mail ballots heavily in November.
Senate bill sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the proposed vote-by-mail changes are designed to ensure the security of future elections.
"I am all about staying ahead of whatever problems could develop," Baxley said before the GOP-controlled Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee voted 4-2 along party lines to approve the bill last Wednesday. "So, it's not that there was a debacle and we have to fix it. Do we have to wait for a debacle? Why can't we take something that is working well and put guardrails on it and keep it safe?"
But Democrats and county elections supervisors opposed the bill, expressing concerns about issues such as the proposed ban on drop boxes, which many voters used in 2020 instead of placing ballots in the mail. Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley, who is the vice president of a statewide supervisors association, said the bill could create a return to past problems of long lines and confusion at polling places.
"I have heard of no supervisors who are in support of this bill," Earley said.