DeSantis signs sweeping bill revising Florida’s election rules

▶ Watch Video: Republican lawmakers in Florida and Texas look to change state voting laws

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday morning signed a sweeping bill that makes several revisions to the state’s election procedures, including new requirements for drop boxes and mail-in voting just months after the state saw a historic rise in voters casting their ballots by mail.

“Right now I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country,” DeSantis told a cheering crowd in south Florida during a signing ceremony that aired live on Fox News. “We’re proud of the strides that we’ve made. 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.'” 

The governor’s office barred other media outlets from attending the signing, with a spokesperson for the governor calling it a “Fox exclusive.” The event aired on “Fox & Friends,” one of the most popular shows on the outlet and one frequently watched by former President Donald Trump.

The new law makes revisions to mail voting in Florida after a record 4.8 million Floridians voted by mail in the 2020 election. More Democrats voted by mail than Republicans, leading some to argue that this new law is specifically targeted against Democratic voters.

Voters will now have to provide either a driver’s license or state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number when requesting a mail ballot. This same information is required to register to vote or update a voter’s registration.

Mail ballots will need to be requested more frequently. Florida previously allowed mail ballot requests to last for two general election cycles, but the new law will require voters to ask for a ballot each general election cycle. 

There will be some tighter rules governing where drop boxes can be placed and requires them to be distributed to give voters across a county equal access. There will be limits on the hours some drop boxes can be accessed: those at early voting sites will only be open during the hours of accessible early voting, while those at the supervisor’s office can be accessible at any hour. Drop boxes need to be staffed by an employee from the election supervisor’s office when voters can drop off ballots. Supervisors who don’t follow the rules could face a $25,000 fine.

The final law didn’t include more controversial proposals such as banning drop boxes entirely and requiring voters to show ID when returning a ballot. DeSantis said he’s “not a fan of drop boxes,” but said that the legislature wanted to keep them in place. He applauded the fact that the drop boxes have to be monitored when accessible. 

The law also bans private funds for elections, something Republicans in other states have targeted after companies provided funding for counties and cities to help run their elections in 2020. It limits who can return absentee ballots, expands the radius of outside groups “engaging in any activity with the intent to influence” voters to 150 feet and puts new requirements in place for settling election lawsuits. 

The new law is already being challenged in court. Democratic lawyer Marc Elias announced shortly after the law was signed that the League of Women Voters of Florida, Black Voters Matters Fund, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and individual voters had filed a complaint seeking an injunction with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

“SB 90 is a bill that purports to solve problems that do not exist, caters to a dangerous lie about the 2020 election that threatens our most basic democratic values, and, in the end, makes it harder to vote without adequate justification for doing so,” the complaint says. 

Common Cause and the NAACP are also expected to file a complaint in federal court claiming that the law makes it more difficult for Black, Latino and disabled voters to cast a ballot.

Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, have noted that the provisions targeting mail voting came after an election where Democrats returned 680,000 more mail ballots than Republicans. In 2018 and 2016, Republicans returned slightly more mail ballots than Democrats. 

On Wednesday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released a report that said investigators found “no evidence of criminal activity” from a group that was helping to pay court fines and fees for former felons, who must pay their balances before being able to vote. The probe found that there was no evidence that anyone was promising votes in exchange for having their fees paid. DeSantis last year asked investigators to look into whether former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg was involved in donations, but the report said “no donations from Bloomberg were identified.”

Florida is one of several states with Republican-controlled legislatures that have considered bills that would restrict voting rights. Arizona, Michigan and Texas are also considering changes to their election laws, including measures to enforce additional ID requirements, restrict access to drop boxes and shrink the pool of voters.

The new law also comes after Georgia enacted controversial elections legislation that critics argue disproportionately affects Black and urban voters.

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