By all accounts, Florida ran a virtually flawless election in 2020. There were no major reports of fraud, long lines or ballots of eligible voters being disqualified due to non-matching signatures. Voters didn’t even let the coronavirus pandemic get in their way. Overall turnout hit a stunning 77 percent of the electorate — its highest level in Florida in nearly two decades. Floridians of all political party affiliations voted by mail in record numbers, too, with 53 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of Republicans choosing to cast their ballots this way. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida had set the “gold standard” for how to run an election by doing it so well in a difficult year. Despite that, DeSantis and the GOP-controlled legislature insisted new security measures were needed, aligning themselves with former president Donald Trump’s false claims that fraud is a widespread threat to elections.
How will these measures actually affect voting in the Sunshine State? Read on to learn more. What problems does the new Florida law address? DeSantis and other Republicans have said it’s always a good idea to continue improving state election laws — and to anticipate problems that could erode public trust in the results. They were also candid about one major reason for the bill: the fact that many Republicans believe widespread fraud tainted the presidential election and swung it for President Biden. Democrats and voting-rights activists say the only reason Republicans believe the election was stolen is because Trump and many of his allies said as much, over and over again. They say the new law’s heavy restriction of mail voting, in particular, reflects Trump’s fixation on the practice and amounts to a veiled attempt to suppress Democratic votes, because so many more Democrats than Republicans voted by mail last year. DeSantis has touted several provisions in the new law that he says will prevent specific types of fraudulent activity, even though no evidence has surfaced that such activity occurred last year in Florida. Image without a caption Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) said the new law was necessary to strengthen election integrity. (Joe Cavaretta/AP) The law requires election officials to share more information about the number of votes cast. In a live broadcast on Fox News on Thursday to sign Senate Bill 90, DeSantis said a provision in the law requiring county election supervisors to publish hourly turnout numbers will provide transparency to the public about how many Floridians have cast ballots — and prevent bad actors from dumping “satchels” of fraudulent votes into ballot boxes. DeSantis was amplifying an accusation made repeatedly by Trump, who has stated falsely that hundreds of thousands of illegal ballots were dumped at election offices in states such as Wisconsin and Michigan. It blocks private donations to assist election administration. In the same broadcast, DeSantis said the provision prevents “private money” from running Florida’s elections. He called the practice “Zuckerbucks,” a reference to millions of dollars that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated to help state and local election administrators around the country prepare for last year’s pandemic-mired election — funds that helped both Republican and Democratic counties in Florida in 2020. Many election officials credited the money with helping the elections run smoothly, including in Philadelphia, where officials said a large counting facility to accommodate the surge in mail balloting would not have been possible without a $10 million grant funded by Zuckerberg and Chan. What does the new law mean for voting by mail? The law dramatically curtails the use of drop boxes. With the exception of drop boxes located at the offices of county election supervisors, the new law prohibits drop boxes from being accessible beyond the hours of early voting. In many counties, this is limited to eight hours a day and for just eight days in the weeks leading up to Election Day. Counties have the option of adding four additional hours each day and six additional days. In no circumstances would drop boxes be available the day before Election Day or on Election Day itself. If any drop box is found to be accessible outside of these hours, the local supervisor of election could be subject to a civil penalty of $25,000. Drop boxes also must be staffed by an election worker at all times they are available to voters. And drop box locations must be set 30 days before an election, meaning mobile drop boxes — which election administrators used last year to move boxes to high-volume locations — are prohibited. Image without a caption A poll worker drops off a mail ballot at a drop box at the Miami-Dade County Election Department on Nov. 3. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP/Getty Images) Election supervisors around the state opposed this measure strenuously because of the pressure on staff during their busy season — and because of the stiff financial penalty. They also said both the limited hours and the mandatory staffing could make for long lines at drop boxes and clog election offices for those waiting to cast their ballots early and in person. It requires voters to renew their mail ballot application every two years. Previously, applications were valid for up to two election cycles, or four years. Both Republican and Democratic operatives say this change could confuse and even disenfranchise voters who have grown used to automatically receiving their mail ballot for four years. It adds new identification requirements for mail ballot requests. Now, voters requesting a ballot must provide a Florida driver’s license number, a nondriver ID number or the last four digits of a Social Security number. Those who have none of these forms of identification may not vote by mail — a reality that critics say will disproportionately affect lower-income individuals and Black and Latino voters, who are less likely to possess such an ID. How else could the law disproportionately affect communities of color? It prohibits any behavior with “the intent” to influence a voter. Supporters of the law say this provision includes any effort, except by election officials, to provide food or water to a voter waiting in a long line to vote. Multiple studies show that precincts with larger Black populations tend to endure longer lines on Election Day. In Florida, particularly during early voting in October, that can mean standing in line in the hot sun. As Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D) of the Florida House put it during heated debate on Senate Bill 90, Florida law makes it a crime to withhold food and water to animals — but now makes it a crime to do the opposite for voters.
It bans “ballot harvesting” by limiting how many ballots an individual may drop off on behalf of other voters. Not including certain family members, the new law limits to two the number of ballots anyone may drop off at an election office or in a drop box. Minority communities are less likely to have ready access to transportation. There have been no reports of widespread ballot harvesting in Florida. Does the law expand access in any way? The new law expands the definition of “immediate” family members permitted to turn in ballots for others, adding grandparents to a list that previously included children, grandchildren, parents, spouses and siblings. What other states are trying to toughen their voting laws, and why are they all doing it now? Republican lawmakers in Georgia, Iowa and Montana have also enacted major voting restrictions this year. The Texas House and Senate have separately passed restrictive bills but are still negotiating their differences. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared voting legislation a “priority” item this year. And laws are under consideration in dozens of other states, notably Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona — all states where Trump contested the results with false or unsubstantiated claims of fraud.
The overall volume of such proposals is far higher than in previous legislative cycles, according to groups that track such activity, including the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU. Many of the proposals from different states are strikingly similar. In nearly all cases, lawmakers and governors have said the new rules are necessary to shore up confidence in the election after so many Republicans came to believe, despite the lack of evidence, that the 2020 outcome was tainted by fraud. Democrats and voting-rights advocates argue the slew of measures are designed to curtail participation among Democrats, particularly voters of color.