Panama City, FL –
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) – Time is running out before this year’s legislative session ends, Florida lawmakers on Thursday night signed a controversial election bill that would make it harder for voters to vote by mail.
Republican lawmakers have moved away from the more stringent proposals contained in earlier versions of the election overhaul. But the bill continued to meet fierce opposition from Democrats, who said it would put up barriers to voting.
The measure (SB 90) focuses largely on postal voting processes, reflecting in some aspects proposals being considered or adopted by other GOP-led legislatures across the country. The proposals came after a huge increase in the November election mail-order votes for Democrats across the country, including in Florida.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican leaders have bragged about Florida’s good handling of the 2020 election amid the coronavirus pandemic. But many of the changes included in the bill, which is now directed to DeSantis, are rooted in issues that have arisen in other states, including states that have not had Florida in decades to deal with it. postal vote.
The overhaul of the elections was one of the most contentious issues of the 60-day legislative session, scheduled to end on Friday. Critics of the plan say the proposed changes are unnecessary and point to Jim Crow-era laws and regulations designed to prevent black people from voting.
The Senate voted 23-17 to pass the revised version of the legislation on Thursday, with a Republican – Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg – crossing party lines to join the opposition Democrats. The House followed up Thursday night by passing the bill in a 77-40 vote along party lines.
Senator Travis Hutson, a Republican from St. Augustine who sponsored the changes that were passed by the House and Senate on Thursday, argued that Floridians have a variety of ways to vote.
“It’s easier now than ever. You have the postal vote. You arrived early (voting). You received the drop box and got the vote in person. And 20 to 30 years ago you didn’t have so many opportunities, ”he said. “I think every legal vote should count. I believe that a fraudulent vote is one too many. And I try to protect the sanctity of our elections. “
But Senator Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, called the voting restrictions “particularly insulting” given the state’s “sordid” history of imposing barriers at the ballot box for people of color.
“Jim Crow. Capitation. Literacy tests. We even used lynching as a barrier for what, just to keep some people from voting,” said Thurston, who is black.
Black lawmakers have also criticized the bill in the House.
“People like me have been relegated to the back of the bus, not allowed to participate in our democracy, and you want me to stay here calmly and accept that this is something that is going to be good for the electorate, ”Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, said, calling it a“ shameful day ”for the House. “You can’t blow me up and tell me you’ve turned off the lights, but tell me it’s very bright and it’s not dim in here.” … Jim Crow today wears a suit, carries a briefcase and is now James Crow, Esquire.
Rep. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat who is a former deputy election supervisor in Duval County, called the election review an “insult” to Democrats.
“It’s an insult to me personally and it’s an insult to the millions of voters who depend on us to make decisions for them… so don’t congratulate yourself and think you’ve accomplished something here today. Davis, who is black, said.
While Republican House and Senate leaders have backed off significantly from previous versions of the package, Democrats, voting rights advocates and election supervisors have argued throughout the legislative session that the provisions of the proposal were unnecessary. The changes would make it more difficult for voters and election officials, critics said.
Republicans acknowledged that the state’s election went off without a hitch last year, but argued that additional “guard rails” are needed to bolster security and prevent voter fraud.
Former President Donald Trump and his allies have repeatedly and wrongly blamed “rigged” and fraudulent elections for Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in November. Local, state and federal officials stressed that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud.
The plan underway for DeSantis, who will be on the ballot next year as he seeks a second term as governor, addresses a myriad of issues, including the use of drop boxes for ballots. vote by mail. Drop boxes became a flashpoint last year, as election officials argued with the DeSantis administration over the location of the boxes and whether they should be kept at all times.
The bill would allow supervisors to use drop boxes at early voting sites and “permanent” branches, provided the boxes are occupied by their employees. A first version of the bill in the Senate would have completely banned drop boxes. In addition, an earlier House version would have required voters to present some form of identification, such as a driver’s license, submit ballots by mail to the polls, and provide written “attestations.” ” they cast other people’s ballots.
The measure approved Thursday includes a poison pill for some Democrats, amending the state’s resignation laws. The proposal would allow DeSantis to appoint replacements for elected officials who resign to run for other positions, instead of holding special elections. The provision appears to be pointed at Broward County officials who have announced their intention to step down and run to replace the late Congressman Alcee Hastings.
Giving the Republican governor the power to appoint replacements for local officials “is an attempt to create a monarchy,” Senator Audrey Gibson of D-Jacksonville said Thursday.
“There is no reason to now create a king in Tallahassee who will decide who will represent the people in our cities and counties. It’s really not necessary for us to do that, ”she said. “There is no reason we should dissuade people from voting and make it much more difficult. History has already shown us what it looks like. And I don’t think we want to repeat this story again.
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