Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed into law numerous election rules changes that advocates say will make elections secure and critics charge will give Republicans an edge in next year’s midterm elections.
The governor, who is up for re-election in 2022, signed the measure live during a Fox News Channel interview from a West Palm Beach hotel. The event was hosted by Club 45 USA, a former President Trump fan club.
“Here’s what it does,” the governor said holding up a placard with bullet points on the new law as he spoke. “This keeps us ahead of the curve … We think this will make it even better as we go forward. So we’re proud of the strides that we have 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.'”
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The law will force 2022 candidates to rethink their get-out-the-vote strategies given the obstacles it will provide for mail-in voting and third-party ballot collection and dropoffs. Though the midterm election is still more than a year away, the campaigning has already begun.
Rep. Charlie Crist, a former governor who now represents a Tampa area district in Washington, has already declared he will seek to challenge DeSantis.
“Really, it’s kind of pathetic. This anti-democracy crowd in Tallahassee is unbelievable,” Crist said in a video his campaign posted right after DeSantis signed the measure. “What they need to do is encourage people to vote. When I was Governor, I extended the hours of voting when we had long lines. Now if you’re in a long line you can’t get water from somebody, especially if you’re 150 feet from voting. So if you’re thirsty, too bad. That’s really kind and gracious.”
One attendee at the DeSantis bill signing event said she did not believe the results of the 2020 vote.
“The election had no integrity to it,” said Della Striker, who claimed some Floridians voted multiple times.
That belief, however, has been discounted by state officials, including DeSantis.
The governor touted the Florida vote in 2020 as the “most successful” in state history when he spoke in West Palm Beach on Feb. 19.
“Last November, Florida held the smoothest, most successful election of any state in the country,” he said at the time, adding that “we should celebrate this feat.”
Election officials insist 2020 elections were ‘safe and secure’
The Florida organization of elections supervisors has said last fall’s election was accurate and opposed the law, saying it was unnecessary and could prove costly.
A spokeswoman for Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link, who greeted Trump when he voted at a county library last October, said Wednesday the 2020 elections were “secure.”
“I don’t think it could have been any more safe or secure,” said Alison Novoa, public information officer for Link’s office.
Still, GOP state officials and voters insist that President Joe Biden was not fairly elected. The latest poll to reflect that was one CNN released April 30 that said 70% of Republicans in America do not think Biden secured enough legitimate votes to win the presidency.
The new Florida law was approved by lawmakers despite criticism that it was a response to baseless and unsubstantiated allegations by Republicans and Trump that November’s election was rigged.
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In fact, the only discernible instance of election fraud is alleged to have taken place in Miami-Dade County. There, a former Republican state lawmaker and a Boca Raton resident face criminal charges over a fake candidacy that may have cost a Democratic state senator re-election.
Trump behind drumbeat of ‘Big Lie’ election voting reforms
Even so, Trump has led the drumbeat of unfounded and ungrounded election fraud claims from his political exile at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. the former president has called the election results, among other things, the “Great Presidential Election Fraud of 2020” in press releases.
But a slew of others, from election observers to Republican state and federal officials across the country, have stood steadfast behind vote counts, recounts and audits, saying there is no evidence of serious irregularities in any state.
Judges in state and federal courts who heard arguments from Trump and Republican lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani, also concluded the evidence was unconvincing when tossing and dismissing scores of lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court, with three Trump-nominated justices, refused to even hear several election-related cases brought by Republicans.
The ongoing, though unproven, claims of election fraud by Trump and GOP allies has been dubbed by critics “The Big Lie.”
But the “Big Lie” has proven lucrative — helping Trump raise more than $200 million — and politically potent in state capitals, where it has provided fodder for legislation to restrict voting access.
And it proved influential enough to power the new law, known as SB 90, through the Florida Legislature.
The new rules promulgated by the law DeSantis signed Thursday will limit who can drop off a ballot on behalf of a voter. The law will enact new ID requirements and limit the number of absentee ballot drop boxes.
It also will restrict third-party voter registration efforts, and force voters to register to vote by mail at more frequent intervals.
Foes vow lawsuits as advocates defend new election law
Even before DeSantis inked the bill into law, one voter advocacy group vowed to lodge a legal challenge.
“We have multiple grounds to challenge this, especially attacks on vote-by-mail,” said Jorge Vasquez, an attorney for the Advancement Project’s Power and Democracy Program. “We’ll act swiftly.”
But a proponent of the legislation said the law is a sensible, preventive measure.
“When we’re talking about more voters casting absentee ballots, and when you need to restore faith and confidence in elections, steps like bringing voter ID to absentee ballots and banning ballot harvesting and trafficking makes a lot of sense,” said Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project.
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Florida just one state pursuing election rules changes
Florida is among 47 states that have debated at least 361 bills aimed at curbing voting rights, reported the Brennan Center for Justice on April 1. At least 55 of those bills are currently moving through state legislatures.
Among the most disputed measures have been those in Georgia and Arizona, where Republican officials currently are conducting a review of 2020 ballots that reportedly includes the bizarre use of UV light.
Some officials in Florida simply say they are glad the new law’s changes were not even more restrictive.
“We are grateful that some of what we have identified as the most disenfranchising proposals in SB 90 did not pass. However, what did pass, essentially, will ultimately make requesting a vote-by-mail ballot and returning a vote-by-mail ballot more challenging,” Novoa said. “It will make it harder for voters to vote.”
A poll released by the Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday said a majority of American voters say they like elections the way they were handled in 2020. Asked their preference for voting practices, 80% of respondents said they would choose to “use their 2020 method of voting in future elections.”
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Vasquez, of Advancement Project’s Power and Democracy Program, agreed.
“What we are really seeing is DeSantis is trying to one-up Georgia, and we now find ourselves in a sword fight as to which state wants to suppress the Black and Brown vote the most,” he said.
But what Vasquez calls voter suppression, SB 90 advocates call election security.
Snead, of the Honest Elections Project, called voting in Florida “very secure and very robust,” but added that there is always room for improvement.
“There is no such thing as an election system that is perfect,” he said. “A lot of states will tackle election reform once in a blue moon … but Florida has done a very good job over the past 20 years in maintenance and upkeep rather than one bill to fix it all.”