ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As other states struggled last November to count mail-in ballots in a timely manner following the presidential election Florida, after years of being a punchline, suddenly was a model for how to do it right.
Gov. Ron DeSantis wasted no time celebrating the state’s success, holding a press conference the day after the election asking why other states can’t “be more like Florida?”
But just four months later, the state’s supervisors of elections want to know why the governor and Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee are now proposing sweeping changes to vote-by-mail laws, including banning drop boxes.
“The first word that comes to mind is perplexing,” said Brian Corley, Pasco County’s supervisor of elections and a Republican.
“I’ve been doing this for nearly 15 years and my dream is that just once those in Tallahassee would actually confer and consult with those of us who actually administer elections.”
When DeSantis first announced the proposals in February he said the state “can’t rest on [its] laurels.”
The Florida Supervisors of Elections, which represents the elections supervisors in each of the state’s 67 counties, issued a letter to lawmakers on Monday warning that the wide-ranging reform “risks destroying the voter confidence."
The proposals would make the following changes to Florida’s election laws:
- Prohibit the use of drop boxes for the return of a vote-by-mail ballot
- Or would require voters present a driver’s license or ID before returning a vote-by-mail ballot to a drop box
- Allow only immediate family members to drop off a vote-by-mail ballot
- Require the signature on a voter’s certificate or ballot cure affidavit to match the most recent one on file. Currently, supervisors can review and compare multiple signatures on file.
- Require an additional form of identification when request is made for a vote-by-mail ballot
- Require a vote-by-mail ballot be returned in a secrecy sleeve to be counted
- Require voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot every year rather than every other year
- Every Florida voter with an active request for a vote-by-mail ballot would also be removed once the law was to go into effect, which would be July 1
The Florida Supervisors of Elections argue restricting signature verification to the most recent signature on file “is a disservice to the voter,” noting that for many their most recent signature may be an electronic signature. While there is support for clarifying requirements around how to secure drop boxes, FSE says eliminating them “would create an unnecessary barrier for voters,” while requiring identification to utilize them would lead to long lines.
Corely says the proposed requirement that ballots be returned inside the secrecy envelope to be counted is the one that “keeps him up at night.”
“I can’t tell you the amount of voters that will reach out to us and say, hey I just noticed I sent my ballot in or dropped it off and I didn’t put it in the secrecy sleeve,” he said. “According to this proposed language we would not be able to tabulate that and that would be a travesty.”
Requiring voters to request a mail ballot every year and removing current requests already on file would be a costly move for taxpayers, Corley said. Some estimates are in the tens of millions of dollars.
“Vote by mail has become about a third of all votes cast,” Corley said. “It’s a solution in search of a problem.
But Republican lawmakers like Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored SB 90, has argued it’s about staying ahead of potential future issues.
“Do we have to wait for a debacle,” Baxley said during a committee hearing earlier this month. “Why can't we take something that is working well and put guardrails on it and keep it safe?"
Baxley’s office did not return our emails.
Tracy Rodriguez, who lives in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood says she’s been a vote-by-mail voter for years and has always opted to return it to drop box. She's one of about 1.5 million Floridians who opted to do the same in November, according to FSE.
“I think it’s convenient and I make sure that it gets there,” she said.
Rodriguez questioned the rationale for the state making it easier for her to do things like renew her driver’s license or car tags but more difficult to cast a ballot.
“When everything has been working so well, it feels like voter suppression,” she said.
A House panel advanced a similar bill on Monday. But it differs from the Senate measure on drop boxes. Rather than eliminating them, it would require security like guards and cameras.
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