By Jessica Simmons
Senate Bill 90 and House Bill 7041 proposed by Florida congressional Republicans seek to restrict the ways in which Floridians can vote, whether early, by mail, or in person.
Despite the fact that mail in voting has been an advantage to the Republican party in Florida in every election prior to 2020, those party members are pushing for more restrictions on this method going forward. 5 million votes of 11 million total in this state were cast by mail last year.
Prior to last year, voting by mail did not appear to confer any benefit to one party over another. It should also be noted that Florida has never allowed unsolicited mail ballots to be sent to voters. Floridians are required to request them. Many elderly voters, including Donald Trump, use mail voting.
In the leadup to the 2020 election there were widespread reports of USPS slowdowns. As a response to this many districts installed drop boxes to enable voters who had requested mail ballots to deliver those themselves.
The measures proposed by Florida Republicans would also eliminate or restrict these drop boxes. Despite the fact that there is no evidence of tampering with any of these drop-off ballots, the proposed measures would ban drop offs by anyone other than an immediate family member of the voter or the voter themselves.
This would be a significant burden on people who rely on members of their community to assist them in voting such as people with limited transportation and mobility. Furthermore, it is unclear how the status of being an immediate family member could be proved or disproved.
Early voting is another method that many voters find useful if not critical in their ability to make it to the polls. Voters who have rigid work schedules often use this method.
Again, this is being targeted by Florida Republicans. They are seeking to shorten the window from 14 to 8 days, and to eliminate voting on the Sunday prior to the election, which has often been a day with high turnout among Latin American and Black voters, including church driven “Souls to the Polls” efforts.
Address changes are another voter registration issue that would be affected. Previously, voters could update their addresses on election day. Under these changes, anyone doing so would only be able to cast a provisional ballot.
This disproportionately affects students and renters whose addresses change more frequently than homeowners. Provisional ballots require additional verification and are separated from normal ballots while the verification takes place. These voters may need to follow up with their county election officials to ensure their votes are counted and be required to prove their identity in the period after the election day.
It is not only remote methods of voting that are under fire. A practice known as “line warming” has been banned in Georgia and Florida Republicans are seeking to do the same here.
This means that giving “or attempting to give any item” to a voter, even if the lines are hours long, would be illegal. Campaigning to voters within 100 feet of a polling site is already illegal, so it is unclear how the practice of providing food, water, or seating would influence a voter one way or another.
Community voter drives, which racial minorities are twice as likely to utilize in their registration to vote, are facing new restrictions. For example, teachers who assist students in registering to vote will have the time available to verify and submit those registrations reduced from 10 days to 48 hours. They are subject to fines if they do not submit them within that time limit.
The reasoning behind these new restrictions remains murky. Governor DeSantis said, “We did it right” regarding the security and validity of the 2020 Florida election result. Of approximately 50 legal cases the Trump campaign filed to challenge the results of the presidential election, none were filed in Florida.
Why introduce legislation for a problem that does not appear to exist? Republican Rep. Joe Gruters said, “It’s about moving forward. It’s about restoring confidence after what we think went wrong,” he said. “When people don’t have faith in an election that has concluded, that threatens democracy.” Democratic Rep. Omari Hardy said it “is voter suppression. This is electoral point shaving. It’s Jim Crow all over again. It must be stopped.”
I urge all of my fellow students to remain informed about changes to voting laws. Know where you need to vote and how you’re able to do it.
Spread the word in your families and communities about what needs to be done to ensure that they can exercise their right to vote. Make sure your registration is up to date.
Give a friend or a neighbor a ride to the polls if you can. Regardless of your party affiliation, your vote should be counted.