Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a full attack on mail-in voting Friday at a campaign-style event in West Palm Beach attended by a cheering, maskless crowd.
DeSantis told the crowd he will help lawmakers to push state legislation to curb the use of mail-in ballots, ballot drop boxes and so-called “ballot harvesting” — echoing accusations made by former President Donald Trump, now a full-time Palm Beach resident, that mail-in voting is susceptible to fraud.
The legislation comes at a time when DeSantis faces reelection in 2022 and is rumored to be a potential presidential candidate in 2024.
In Congress, Republicans hope to take the U.S. House from Democrats, as well as regain the U.S. Senate.
Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, told the Phoenix the governor’s event stokes unfounded suspicion about election integrity.
“This is disinformation. It’s perpetuating a sense of paranoia where there is absolutely no need for it,” Brigham said. “What we have is working. Making voting harder is a form of voter suppression. … Why would any politician want fewer people voting?”
Brigham said she knew of no significant problems with voting by mail in Florida, which the the League of Women Voters and other voting groups encouraged in the midst of the pandemic.
Brigham also was shocked to see that DeSantis and other keynote speakers did not wear face masks, and even embraced each other, contrary to public-health guidance while coronavirus and a crop of dangerous variants continue to sicken and kill people in Florida.
“That’s an irresponsible message,” she said.
Joined by Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, DeSantis both praised Florida’s election performance in 2020 during the pandemic and denounced practices that helped voters cast their ballots without voting in person in the midst of a dangerous pandemic.
“Florida had the most transparent and efficient election anywhere in the country,” DeSantis said. Nevertheless, he and Ingoglia followed that good news with demands to cut back on mail-in voting — prompting frequent cheering and applause from the seemingly all-GOP audience.
“We want everyone to vote but we don’t want anyone to cheat,” he said, citing no evidence that anyone cheated.
This week, a Senate committee approved legislation introduced by Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican from north-central Florida, adding limits to mail-in balloting practices promoted by supervisors of elections.
The limits include requiring voters to request vote-by-mail ballots for each election, rather than one request applying to multiple election cycles.
Other proposed limits: banning “special interest” money from assisting in Florida get-out-the-vote efforts, limiting use of ballot drop boxes, blocking people from handling any ballot other than their own, verifying voters signatures, giving observers greater access to vote-counting, and more “transparency” from elections supervisors.
Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orange County Democrat on that committee, said Baxley’s legislation is intended to suppress Democratic votes.
“This is clearly going to reduce vote-by-mail in Democratic counties,” Bracy said. “I’m sorry that I even have to take it there, but it’s disheartening to look at this for what I see it is.”
Brigham said ballot drop boxes, signature verification on mailed-in ballots, and observers worked exactly as they were designed to do and don’t need revisions. She said new rules would needlessly add work for elections supervisors.
Nationwide, Democrats heavily voted by mail, outnumbering Republicans who were advised not to do so by former President Donald Trump.
Nationally, Democrats won the White House, retained their majority in the House of Representatives, and flipped the Senate.
Democrats did not do well in Florida, which favored Trump over now-President Biden.
The rally Friday, questionably billed as a press conference, started with a lengthy tribute to conservative firebrand and radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, who died Wednesday after a long career helping shape and drive Republican politics. DeSantis said he will soon order state flags to fly at half-staff in remembrance.