The Florida Congress passed a controversial bill on Thursday that civil rights advocates consider highly damaging to those who want to vote by mail. The law is only pending the signature of Republican State Governor Ron DeSantis, who was quick to declare that “of course” he would sign it. First it was Georgia, now it is Florida’s turn. Texas and Arizona are preparing something similar for the next few months. They are all states where Republican Donald Trump won in the last presidential elections or turned from Republican to Democrat by the minimum, which in the end would end up giving the victory to Joe Biden last November.
The law, promoted by the Republicans, who control the Florida Congress, received 23 votes in favor and 17 against. Like other similar measures that Republicans are pushing in dozens of states across the country, Florida law hinders voting by mail, restricts the number of ballot boxes available to cast ballots during early voting days, and prohibits any type of action that could theoretically influence those who queue to vote, which in practice means preventing food or water from being offered to those who wait long hours, in many cases under the strong Florida sun, to deposit your ballot. A provision similar to the one that caused great controversy in Georgia, whose new Electoral Integrity law dictates that from now on offering pizza or water to those waiting to vote is directly a crime. The regulation was approved on March 25 by the state House, with a Republican majority.
The law obliges to verify the signature on the day of voting – which implies that voters must have previously registered a rubric in the file of the electoral authorities, something that happens on limited occasions – and the imposition that whoever wants to vote by mail have to request the ballot every electoral cycle, and not every two as it is currently, are other points that have generated controversy.
Governor DeSantis’s speech is confusing to say the least. A supporter of the changes in the electoral system, DeSantis described the presidential elections in November as “the most transparent and efficient in the country.” Republicans and Florida Capitol Democrats hailed the election as a model for the nation. In that state, former President Donald Trump beat Joe Biden by more than three points.
The goal of these laws is always the same, according to Democrats and advocacy organizations: to intimidate, confuse, and make it harder for minorities, older people, and those with disabilities to vote. Although at this point there are Republicans who are not so clear if the law will eventually turn against them, since millions of Florida residents vote by mail, including many from the Republican Party. In fact, 4.8 million Floridians voted by mail in the presidential past, which was a record number.
For Nikki Fried, Florida Agriculture Commissioner and a Democrat, the new law represents “the suppression of voters, plain and simple,” she told Efe news agency. “Many more Democrats than Republicans voted in the last mail-order elections, which is why the Republicans in power want to restrict voting by mail and the ballot box to cast them,” Fried concluded.
Democrats recall that it is the second controversial voting bill defended by Republican legislators in the last two years, following a law that regulated the right to vote of former prisoners in 2019. For the Democratic Party, the new law is “a voter suppression tactic,” aimed at crushing the record-breaking vote-by-mail support its party received in 2020, especially in the state’s largest metropolitan areas. In 2020, 2.1 million Democrats voted by mail, compared with 1.5 million Republicans and another million voters who were not affiliated with any party.
Organizations such as the historic Union for the Defense of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the United States (ACLU) or the NAACP (the great association for the defense of black people), consider that the package of measures translates into an operation of “vote suppression” for partisan purposes and say they will take the matter to court.
The basic battle is national and the Democrats have responded with the offer of a joint law that establishes a common voting law for the whole country and that, unlike the Republican offensive, seeks to expand and shield minimum access to the suffrage across the country.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.