Florida’s New Voting Rights Law Explained

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, signed new voting restrictions into law on Thursday, reducing voting access in one of the nation’s critical battleground states.

Florida, which former President Donald J. Trump won by about three percentage points in 2020, is the latest Republican-controlled state, following Georgia, Montana and Iowa, to impose new hurdles to casting a ballot after November’s elections.

Voting rights experts and Democrats say that some provisions of the new law will disproportionately affect voters of color.

Here’s a guide to how the law changes voting in Florida.

The law, Senate Bill 90, limits the use of drop boxes where voters can deposit absentee ballots, and adds more identification requirements for anyone requesting an absentee ballot. It also requires voters to request an absentee ballot for each two-year election cycle, rather than every four years, under the previous law. Additionally, it limits who can collect and drop off ballots.

The law also expands a current rule that prohibits outside groups from holding signs or wearing political paraphernalia within 150 feet of a polling place or drop box, “with the intent to influence voters,” an increase from the previous 100 feet.

The new law weakens key parts of an extensive voting infrastructure that was built up slowly after the state’s chaotic 2000 election. In 2020, that infrastructure allowed Florida to ramp up quickly to accommodate absentee balloting and increased drop boxes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters of color are most reliant on after-hours drop boxes, critics of the law say, as it’s often more difficult for them to both take hours off during the day and to organize transportation to polling places.

Republican legislators promoting the bill offered little evidence of election fraud, and argued for limiting access despite their continued claims that the state’s 2020 election was the “gold standard” for the country.

Florida has a popular tradition of voting by mail: In the 2016 and 2018 elections, nearly a third of the state’s voters cast ballots through the mail.

In both years, more Republicans than Democrats voted by mail. But in 2020, more than 2.1 million Democrats cast mail ballots, compared with 1.4 million Republicans, after Mr. Trump claimed repeatedly that expanding mail-in voting would lead to fraud.

Voting ran smoothly in 2020, by all accounts.

“There was no problem in Florida,” said Kara Gross, the legislative director and senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “Everything worked as it should. The only reason they’re doing this is to make it harder to vote.”

And Mr. DeSantis has praised Florida’s handling of November’s elections, saying that his state has “the strongest election integrity measures in the country.”

But on the need for the new law, he said: “Florida took action this legislative session to increase transparency and strengthen the security of our elections.”

Yes. The Texas House of Representatives passed a similar measure this week after a lengthy debate. The bill will soon be taken up by the state’s Republican-controlled Senate. Other states including Arizona, Michigan and Ohio are considering their own bills.

Voting rights groups filed lawsuits shortly after Mr. DeSantis signed the bill into law during a live broadcast on a Fox News morning program.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, the Black Voters Matter Fund and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans joined in one suit, arguing that “Senate Bill 90 does not impede all of Florida’s voters equally.”

“It is crafted to and will operate to make it more difficult for certain types of voters to participate in the state’s elections, including those voters who generally wish to vote with a vote-by-mail ballot and voters who have historically had to overcome substantial hurdles to reach the ballot box, such as Florida’s senior voters, youngest voters, and minority voters.”

Another suit was brought by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Disability Rights Florida and Common Cause, who argued that the law violates constitutional protections and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The law took effect immediately, and will be in force for the 2022 election, when Mr. DeSantis is up for re-election.

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