Florida Gov Signs Major Rewrite Of Voting Law

Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session, Friday, April 30, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a major rewrite of Florida’s elections law on Thursday, tightening rules around drop boxes and mail-in voting in the presidential battleground.

It’s the latest victory in the nationwide push by Republicans to restrict access to the polls, which party leaders say is necessary to deter fraud. The campaign has been fueled by former President Donald Trump’s claim that his reelection was stolen from him, an assertion widely repeated across the GOP. Florida’s Republican legislators passed this law without a single Democratic vote.

DeSantis, widely viewed as a potential presidential candidate, clearly saw the political advantage in fighting for what his party describes as “election integrity.” In an extraordinary move, he staged his bill-signing live on the Fox & Friends show, with no other media outlets allowed.

This new law restricts when ballot drop boxes can be used, and who can collect ballots — and how many. It mandates that drop boxes must be guarded, and available only when elections offices and early voting sites are open. To protect against “ballot harvesting,” an electoral Good Samaritan can only collect and return the ballots of immediate family, and no more than two from unrelated people.

“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 not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes and dump them in some drop box.”

Democrats acknowledge that the Florida law doesn’t appear to be as draconian as one one recently approved in Georgia, a flashpoint in this national debate. But both laws contain some similar provisions.

In addition to similar drop box rules, the Florida law also extends a no-influence zone to 150 feet (50 meters) from 100 feet around polling places, which could prevent people from supplying food and water to people waiting in line. 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 of up to $25,000.

The Florida law also requires that a voter changing registration data provide an identifying number, possibly a driver’s license number or a partial Social Security Number, which advocates say could add a layer of inconvenience and keep people from being able to vote.

The new law also requires voters who want an absentee ballot to apply for one every election cycle. Republicans had initially proposed making this retroactive, which would have immediately erased the Democratic advantage, but they backed off that move in the final version.

Other more severe provisions put forward by some Republicans — such as banning drop boxes outright and preventing the use of the U.S. Postal Service for returning completed ballots — also didn’t make it into the law.

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