Voting-rights and civil-rights advocates call for veto of GOP-driven election reforms

Pro-Trump and pro-Biden protesters are separated by police in Philadelphia where Republicans insisted Donald Trump's defeat was caused by widespread voting fraud. Courts across the nation found no evidence of that. Florida's 2020 elections administration in the midst of the COVID pandemic was commended as exemplary. Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Twenty voting-rights and civil-rights organizations told Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday that he should veto elections-reform legislation sent for his signature by the Republican-led Florida Legislature.

The group includes the Fair Elections Center based in Washington, D.C, and Florida chapters of All Voting is Local, American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League, Common Cause, Faith in Florida, League of Women Voters, NAACP, Sierra Club, and Southern Poverty Law Center.

In a letter to DeSantis, the organizations said the legislation, known as Senate Bill 90, creates “barriers for eligible Floridians to exercise their freedom to vote by making mail ballots less accessible and more difficult to cast, severely limiting voter assistance, and making it more difficult for community voter registration drives to do their critical outreach. We ask you to do the right thing by Florida voters, stand by your pride in Florida’s 2020 election administration, and veto this harmful bill.”

DeSantis, who had called for such reforms, has until May 18 to veto SB 90 or to sign it into law.

The Republican sponsors of SB 90 — Hernando County Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, former chair of the Republican Party of Florida, and Sen. Dennis Baxley, representing parts of Sumter, Lake, and Marion counties — pitched the reforms as addressing potential if not demonstrated fraud by putting “guardrails” on state election laws that were widely commended in 2020.

Critics, including Florida’s elections supervisors, said throughout the 2021 legislative session that the proposed guardrails would accomplish nothing other than making voting harder, especially voting by mail, without making elections more secure.

Ingoglia said in April 28 debate in the House that the opinions of locally elected supervisors of elections are irrelevant.

“Quite frankly, it’s the Legislature that makes the laws,” he said. “We have had conversations with them and we just have a fundamental disagreement.”

SB 90 limits the use of ballot drop boxes, limits who can help pick up or deliver a voter’s mail-in ballot on his or her behalf, and adds myriad new rules on registering to vote, requesting a ballot by mail, signature verification, collecting ballots, counting ballots, observing the counting of ballots, reporting results, and challenging results.

The groups argue that those reforms by design will disproportionately disadvantage minority and young voters, in part because many work unconventional hours that make access to traditional voting methods difficult, and because many become voters by way of community voter registration drives that SB 90 would curtail.

The letter stresses that legislative Republicans, over the objections of Democrats in the minority, refused to accept changes the group says would have made secure voting more accessible, not less so.

League of Women Voters President Patricia Brigham, All Voting Is Local state director Brad Ashwell, and others have said the reforms mirror GOP efforts in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, to suppress voting, especially by Democrats. Ashwell calls the GOP voting changes a “direct backlash” to record levels of mail-in balloting in 2020 by Democrats and minority voters amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While Republican candidates made gains across the country last fall — including in Florida — Republican ex- President Donald Trump lost to Democratic President Joe Biden, fueling the “Big Lie” that Trump lost because of widespread voting fraud favoring Democrats. Claims of widespread fraud persist among many Republicans but have never been validated by evidence.

Senate Bill 90 also would give DeSantis the power to fill by appointment vacancies on certain elected boards, notably the Broward County Commission, where two Democrats have resigned to run for the seat left open by the death of Congressman Alcee Hastings. Broward Democrats denounce that provision of SB 90, calling it a power grab by the governor, who would appoint Republicans to the vacant county seats. If not for that provision, Broward voters would elect the new commissioners.

DeSantis announced in Miami Tuesday that he set the dates for special elections to succeed Hastings: Nov. 2 for primaries and Jan. 11 for the general election. Democrats voiced dismay about the dates, as that leaves Hastings’ former district without representation until Jan. 11 and reduces the slim Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for months to come.