TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers were poised to finalize new rules on voting by mail and tighten ID requirements for routine voter registration changes as Republicans hailed their state as a national model while neighboring Georgia weighed heavily on Democrats’ minds.
“After the most secure election in American history, one in which Florida outperformed the rest of the country, we now apparently need to question the integrity of our own great work,” said Rep. Michael Grieco, a Democrat.
“Please do not Georgia my Florida,” Grieco said.
Georgia’s sweeping rewrite of its election rules has prompted alarm among Democrats and voting rights advocates in Florida and elsewhere, who object to new photo ID requirements and prohibitions against giving food and water to voters standing in line.
Similar provisions are included in the proposal before Florida lawmakers.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed for changes in the state’s election laws as part of an effort by Republicans nationwide to overhaul rules after last November’s presidential contest in which then-President Donald Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
A central focus of the debate is on voting by mail, including the use of drop boxes and so-called “ballot harvesting,” a practice Republicans have long sought to limit because of their worry that outside groups could tamper with the completed ballots they collect.
Absentee ballots that are not dropped in the U.S. mail can be returned in drop boxes only when early voting sites and elections offices are open. Some counties had allowed voters to drop off their ballots at drop boxes accessible night and day. It would limit how many vote-by-mail ballots a person can collect for delivery to elections officials.
Additionally, those drop boxes would have to be staffed by elections officials.
And it would require voters to provide identifying information, such as a driver’s license number or a partial Social Security number, whenever a voter makes changes to a registration record.
Critics said the changes would make it more inconvenient for voters.
“Instead of expanding voter access on any level, we’re talking about restrictions,” said Rep. Tracie Davis, a former deputy supervisor for Duval County. “How can you not say this is not a deliberate barrier to voting?”
For years, Florida had been the subject of ridicule over long delays in vote counting — including the 2000 presidential contest between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George Bush, when the outcome was unknown for weeks until the U.S. Supreme Court halted the vote count and allowed Bush to prevail.
Republicans called the GOP-written measure as “guardrails” against fraud, while Democrats argued that the new rules were designed to make it more inconvenient, if not more difficult, for some to cast ballots — particularly among Black voters and less experienced voters.
Democrats accused Republicans of imposing a solution to a phantom problem.
“What’s the problem that we’re trying to fix?” asked Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat. “Oh, here’s the problem: Florida Democrats cast 600,000 more vote-by-mail ballots in Florida.”
Actually, Florida Democrats outvoted Republicans by mail by 680,000 more absentee ballots.
More than 11 million Floridians cast ballots in the November elections, with 4.8 million voting by mail — a record number that accounted for about 44% of the votes cast statewide. President Donald Trump still won Florida by about 3%, but the Democratic advantage in absentee voting has prompted worry among Republicans who once had the upper hand in voting by mail.
Democrats launched a campaign to get their rank and file to vote early, in person, through the mail or by submitting their ballots at drop boxes because of concern over Election Day turnout during the ongoing pandemic.
The move by Florida Republicans comes even though the state’s most recent elections were conducted without significant problems. DeSantis called his state’s balloting last fall as “a blueprint for other states to follow.”
“This bill is not about making it harder to vote. This bill is about making it harder to vote illegally,” said Rep. Tommy Gregory, a Republican.
While some differences remain between the House and Senate, both chambers are under pressure to deliver another legislative victory for the governor. With the legislative session scheduled to conclude Friday, lawmakers don’t have much time.