TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a elections bill into law Thursday that he and other Republicans said would place guardrails against fraud, even as they acknowledged there were no serious signs of voting irregularities last November.
Democrats and voter rights advocates said the partisan move will make it harder for some voters to cast ballots, and a federal lawsuit was immediately filed.
What You Need To Know
- Florida's GOP governor has signed a controversial elections bill into law
- The bill was passed last week by the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature
- The law defines when ballot drop boxes can be used and who can collect ballots
- RELATED: Florida Senate passes SB 90, which tightens some voting rules
- READ IT: Full text of Florida's SB 90
The Republican governor signed bill — passed a week ago by the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature on the second-to-last day of the state's legislative session — ahead of his impending announcement that he'll run for reelection in the nation's largest battleground state. He staged the signing on a live broadcast of Fox & Friends on Thursday morning, flanked by a small group of GOP legislators in Palm Beach County.
Other media organizations were shut out of the event and decried the limit on access to the bill-signing. DeSantis said the move, however, was not a violation of Florida's Sunshine law.
"It was on national TV. It wasn't secret," DeSantis said.
DeSantis said the new law puts Florida ahead of the curve in preventing any potential fraud.
“Right now, I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country,” the governor said as he signed it. “We're also banning ballot harvesting. We're not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes and dump them in some drop box.”
Republicans have previously said they know of no such problems in Florida, and elections supervisors across the state did not ask for any of the changes, warning that some of the new rules may prove cumbersome and expensive to implement.
Immediately after the signing, two lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, the state capital, seeking injunctions.
The League of Women Voters of Florida joined the Black Voters Matter Fund, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, and several individual Florida voters are listed as plaintiffs in a 69-page complaint. It lists Florida's Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, and the state's 67 supervisors of elections as defendants.
"SB 90 does not impede all of Florida’s voters equally," the plaintiffs write in the lawsuit. The rights groups say the new law will make it harder for Blacks, Hispanics, and the disabled to vote.
The League of Women Voters released a statement that reads in part:
"The League of Women Voters of Florida has fought SB 90 since its introduction, and we’re continuing our fight now. The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color. It’s a despicable attempt by a one party ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot. It’s undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American.”
A second federal lawsuit against Lee was filed by the Florida State Conference of Branches and Youth Units of the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida and Common Cause.
"By making it more difficult for voters to obtain and return VBM (vote by mail) ballots, SB 90 will force more voters to attempt to vote in person, leading to longer lines and wait times for all voters, and outright disenfranchisement for some," plaintiffs in the second lawsuit write. "While this law affects all voters, the brunt of the harm will be borne by Black voters, Latino voters, and voters with disabilities."
While Georgia has become the current epicenter of the national battle over elections laws, other states — led by Republicans still unsettled by then-President Donald Trump’s loss in November — have moved to rewrite elections laws. The national campaign to do so is motivated by Trump’s unfounded allegations that irregularities in the election process, particularly in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, led to his loss — a baseless claim that inspired the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The Georgia law requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed.
Some of the changes in Florida’s election rules contain similar provisions. Democrats acknowledge that the Florida law won’t be as draconian as the one recently adopted by its neighbor to the north.
The Florida Legislature passed the law without a single Democratic vote, even as Florida Republicans have hailed their state as a model for conducting elections. This disconnect has confounded Democrats, voter rights groups and statewide elections officials who see no need for the changes.
But Republicans countered that the new law is a preemptive move against those who would undermine the sanctity of the ballot box, even if they could not cite specific instances of widespread fraud. Republicans argue that the new rules do nothing to keep people from voting.
"SB 90 is a bill that purports to solve problems that do not exist, caters to a dangerous lie about the 2020 election that threatens our most basic democratic values, and, in the end, makes it harder to vote without adequate justification for doing so," the plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege.
The newly signed law restricts when ballot drop boxes can be used and who can collect ballots — and how many. To protect against so called “ballot harvesting,” an electoral Good Samaritan can only collect and return the ballots of immediate family and no more than two from unrelated people. Under the new rules, drop boxes must be supervised and would only be available when elections offices and early voting sites are open.
It requires that a voter making changes to registration data provide an identifying number, possibly a driver’s license number or a partial Social Security Number.
"SB 90 directly impacts third party voter registration organizations like the League of Women Voters and forces them to take certain steps that could discourage Floridians from registering to vote and, as a result, suppress voter turnout," the League said in a statement.
The governor’s signature extends a no-influence zone to 150 feet around polling places. And elections officials would have to let candidates and other observers witness some key election night moments in the ballot-handling process. Any violations could prompt hefty fines.
DeSantis had pushed Republican lawmakers to deliver the sweeping rewrites of rules on voting by mail and drop boxes, and to impose new layers of ID requirements for routine changes to a voter’s registration record.
However, the proposals signed into law did not include some of the more severe provisions initially put forward by some Republicans, including the outright banning of drop boxes and preventing the use of the U.S. Postal Service for returning completed ballots.
Spurred by concerns that the pandemic would keep voters from voting on Election Day last year, the Democratic Party urged people to vote early and through the mail. The result: Florida Democrats outvoted Republicans by mail for the first time in years as a record 4.9 million Floridians voted by mail. Democrats cast 680,000 more mail ballots than Republicans did.
In the past, an application for a vote-by-mail ballot covered two general election cycles. The new law requires voters who want an absentee ballot to apply for one every cycle. Republicans had initially proposed making this retroactive, which would have immediately erased the Democratic advantage, but they backed off that move in the final version.