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In the run-up to the 2020 election, when Donald Trump urged his supporters to abandon postal voting across the country, he made an exception for Florida. “In Florida the electoral system is safe and secure, tried and true,” tweeted Trump in August 2020. “In Florida, I encourage everyone to request a ballot and vote by mail!”
Trump voted by mail in the state, as did GOP Governor Ron DeSantis, who cast a postal vote in six out of seven elections from 2016 to 2020. While spreading lies about widespread electoral fraud in the states Joe Biden won, Republicans cited Florida as a model of electoral integrity. “Maybe 2020 was the year we finally defeated the spirit of Bush against Gore,” DeSantis said.
Florida Republicans have pioneered the use of postal voting since the 2000 electoral cycle – when the GOP sent postal voting forms to all registered Republicans to increase voter turnout among rural and senior voters. But in 2020, for the first time in the state’s history, the state Democrats outperformed the GOP in absentee ballots, dropping a whopping 680,000 more postal ballots than Republicans. Trump still won the Sunshine State by 3 percentage points, but the sudden change in voting patterns appears to have led Republican politicians to turn around on the issue.
New laws passed by Florida’s GOP-controlled legislature Thursday night – which DeSantis has spoken out for and is expected to sign – will block access to postal voting after Georgia Republicans passed a draft last month. The heart of the Florida bill severely restricts the postal ballots that 1.5 million Floridians used in November. While Dropboxes used to be publicly available across the state – including the fact that they were open 24/7 under security surveillance in many places – now Dropboxes must be manned by an election worker at all times, severely limiting the number of boxes and when the voters can access it. “I couldn’t leave one of my employees to sit at our Dropbox all day, nor could I afford to hire another employee to do this with my budget,” Bradford County’s polling officer Amanda Seyfang told WUFT News. In addition, county electoral officers are fined $ 25,000 for failing to abide by the strict rules of law that prevent election officials from making Dropbox widely available.
The bill also makes it harder to get postal ballots, and voters must apply for a ballot each election cycle. In the past, voters only had to apply for it once every two election cycles. Also, a new ID requirement is added to receive a postal ballot when previously none was needed.
In 2020, 43 percent of Floridians – 4.7 million people – voted by mail, and Democrats made up 45 percent of postal voters, compared with 31 percent of Republicans. While the use of votes via email increased across the board from 2016 to 2020, it doubled among black voters, the largest increase among any population group.
“It’s not Georgia,” said Broward County’s Democratic State Senator Shevrin Jones when the bill was first passed in the Senate on Monday, Florida Confederate Memorial Day. “But it’s definitely Georgia-Lite.”
The bill takes up Georgian law in other ways as well. It prohibits groups from giving food and water to voters in line. It prohibits election officials from accepting funds from nonprofit groups. And it increases the likelihood that ballots will be discarded or challenged by allowing partisan election observers to challenge any ballot they have a “reasonable objection” to. Election observers for political parties or candidates must now be able to “view directly” ballot papers that are being checked for signature matching, which can lead to chaos in the polling rooms.
“The number of people we are talking about are allowed to enter the ballot duplication process and be in close proximity. I think this is a very serious security risk for many offices,” said Mark Earley, Leon County election officer , previously from the legislature.
For all of these reasons, Florida’s polling officers unanimously reject the bill. “I’m literally confused about why we’d be tweaking a system that worked extremely well,” said Brian Corley, Pasco County’s GOP election officer.
The only reason Florida Republicans undermine mail voting, despite Trump & DeSantis using and praising it, is because more Dems than Republicans voted by mail for the first time in November
Instead of targeting more voters, they want fewer people to vote. Pic.twitter.com/4Wk1WImKXo
– Ari Berman (@AriBerman) April 26, 2021
Florida law, however, follows a clear pattern emerging in GOP-controlled states: use electoral laws when they work for your party, but change them as soon as the other side uses them more frequently.
Florida is now the seventh GOP-led state, along with Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Montana, Utah and Wyoming, to introduce new voting restrictions this year.