Democrats and voter rights advocates said, without evidence, that the move will make it harder for some voters to cast ballots.
The Republican governor signed the freshly passed legislation ahead of his impending announcement that he’ll run for reelection in the nation’s largest battleground state.
He staged the signing on a live broadcast of “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning, flanked by a small group of GOP legislators in Palm Beach County. Other media organizations were shut out.
DeSantis said the new law puts Florida ahead of the curve in preventing any potential fraud.
“Right now I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country,” the governor said as he signed it. “We’re also banning ballot harvesting. We’re not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes and dump them in some drop box.”
Democrats and voter advocates have assailed the law as a blatant attempt impede access to the polls so that Republicans might regain an advantage.
“The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color. It’s a despicable attempt by a one party ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot. It’s undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
The league joined the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and others in assailing the new law in a federal lawsuit filed minutes after the signing.
A separate lawsuit by the NAACP and Common Cause alleges that the new law makes it more difficult for people who are black, Latino or disabled to vote.
“For far too long, Florida’s lawmakers and elected officials have created a vast array of hurdles that have made it more difficult for these and other voters to make their voices heard,” the groups said in their lawsuit, which they filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, the state capital.
While Georgia has become the current flashpoint of the national battle over elections laws, other states have moved to rewrite elections laws. The national campaign to do so is motivated by irregularities found in the election process, particularly in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona.
The Georgia law requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed.
Some of the changes in Florida’s election rules contain similar provisions. Democrats acknowledge that the Florida law won’t be as draconian as the one recently adopted by its neighbor to the north.
The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature passed the law without a single Democrat vote.
Republicans said that the new law is a preemptive move against those who would undermine the sanctity of the ballot box. Republicans argue that the new rules do nothing to keep people from voting.
The newly signed law restricts when ballot drop boxes can be used and who can collect ballots — and how many. To protect against so called “ballot harvesting,” an electoral Good Samaritan can only collect and return the ballots of immediate family and no more than two from unrelated people. Under the new rules, drop boxes must be supervised and would only be available when elections offices and early voting sites are open.
It requires that a voter making changes to registration data provide an identifying number, possibly a driver’s license number or a partial Social Security Number.
The governor’s signature extends a no-influence zone to 150 feet around polling places. And elections officials would have to let candidates and other observers witness some key election night moments in the ballot-handling process. Any violations could prompt hefty fines.
Spurred by concerns that the pandemic would keep voters from voting on Election Day last year, the Democratic Party urged people to vote early and through the mail.
The result: Florida Democrats outvoted Republicans by mail for the first time in years as a record 4.9 million Floridians voted by mail. Democrats cast 680,000 more mail ballots than Republicans did.
In the past, an application for a vote-by-mail ballot covered two general election cycles. The new law requires voters who want an absentee ballot to apply for one every cycle.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.