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.
What are the changes in the new law?
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.
Why are people upset?
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.
Has voter fraud been a problem in Florida?
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.”
Amid months of false claims by former President Donald J. Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states are marching ahead to pass laws making it harder to vote and changing how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.
- A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become a central issue in American politics. The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning law and justice institute at New York University, counts 361 bills in 47 states that seek to tighten voting rules. At the same time, 843 bills have been introduced with provisions to improve access to voting.
- The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
- More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
- Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would likely face steep legal challenges.
- Florida: The latest state to restrict voting. Measures include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
- Texas: The next big move could happen here, where Republicans in the legislature are brushing aside objections from corporate titans and moving on a vast election bill that would be among the most severe in the nation. It would impose new restrictions on early voting, ban drive-through voting, threaten election officials with harsher penalties and greatly empower partisan poll watchers.
- Other States: Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. Iowa has also imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day. And bills to restrict voting have been moving through Republican-led legislatures in Arizona and Michigan.
Are other states pursuing similar restrictions?
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.
What can we expect to happen next?
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.