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Florida lawmakers advance bill that would make it more difficult to vote by mail in future elections

Vote by mail florida
Posted at 10:40 AM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 10:40:35-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida inched closer Tuesday to implementing new vote by mail restrictions. In a split decision, state lawmakers advanced a bill that would make it harder to obtain an absentee ballot for future elections.

Florida, which allows anyone who requests a ballot to vote by mail, saw an unprecedented number of vote-by-mail ballots in 2020. The state was happy to report officials discovered no widespread fraud or issues. The Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, told the press Nov. 4 that Florida was an example for others.

"The way Florida did it, I think, inspires confidence," DeSantis said. "I think that's how elections should be run."

Even so, Senate Bill 90 aims to change absentee voting rules. If approved as amended, Floridians would need to request mail ballots ahead of every election cycle instead of every two.

The policy is also retroactive. Those who applied to vote by mail last year would need to reapply for 2022.

"The thing I'm after, easy to vote, hard to cheat and integrity without ballots," said the legislation’s sponsor, State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake.

State Sen. Dennis Baxley
Sen. Dennis Baxley says the bill's goal is to make it harder to cheat and preserve election integrity.

Though fraud was minimal in 2020, Baxley said the huge absentee turnout suggests more protections are needed moving forward.

"When you start mailing ballots out, you have got to be more cautious," he said. "This is a new experience to do it on the scale that we've been operating. It just bears us well to protect the integrity of that voter file."

Election supervisors have concerns. The change, the state association said, could mean more work and money to notify voters.

"The costs for that outreach will be where the rubber meets the road," said Okaloosa County Election Supervisor Paul Lux. "That will fall to the counties to do. It will not come from state money."

State Rep. Evan Jenne
State Rep. Evan Jenne hopes the bill won't disenfranchise voters seeking to cast a ballot.

Democrats, who had a vote-by-mail advantage in 2020, worry passage will disenfranchise voters. Though lawmakers in the House have yet to file a version of their own, the state's co-Minority Leader Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, felt the legislation was unneeded and questioned its motives.

"I would hope those partisan inclinations aren't the overarching reason and thrust behind this bill, but we'll wait until we see it," Jenne said.

Tuesday's five to four party-line decision in the Ethics and Elections Committee moves the bill to its second of three Senate stops before reaching the chamber floor.

The lawmaking session begins March 2.

This story was originally published by Forrest Saunders on WPTV in Palm Beach, Florida.