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Florida Sued After Governor Signs Ballot Access Restrictions (3)

May 6, 2021, 2:47 PM; Updated: May 6, 2021, 7:51 PM

An election-law overhaul that Florida’s elections supervisors say will make it harder to vote by mail was signed into law Thursday and immediately challenged in federal court.

The legislation (S.B. 90) requires vote-by-mail requests to be renewed every two years, and voters will have to show additional identification when registering to vote in person or by mail.

Ballot drop boxes now must be monitored in person during the limited hours they’re available. On Election Day, elections supervisors will have to post hourly updates on voter turnout and the number of vote-by-mail ballots that remain uncounted.

The law blocks elections supervisors from using private grants for election staffing and equipment, such as grants offered last year through a group funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“Some of this stuff going on in other parts of the country, where you had these big private groups come in and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to run elections—that is unacceptable. We are not allowing that in Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said at a news conference in Panama City Beach, Fla.

“We’re going to make sure our elections are transparent and they’re not being funded by special interests,” he said.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Black Voters Matter Fund, and others jointly filed suit, calling the new law “an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote,” according an emailed statement.

In a separate lawsuit, the Florida NAACP, Disability Rights Florida. and Common Cause said the law “disproportionately impacts the ability of Black voters, Latino voters, and voters with disabilities to cast their ballot,” according to a statement.

Elections Officials Oppose

The law “makes requesting vote-by-mail ballots and returning those ballots harder,” said Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer.

Legislators should have looked for cost-effective ways to expand the use of drop boxes, including the use of 24-hour camera surveillance for them, said Latimer, also the president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections.

Florida’s highest-ranking Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, criticized DeSantis for signing the bill only in front of political supporters in Palm Beach County near “his master at Mar-a-Lago,” referring to former President Donald Trump.

The bill seeks to solve problems that don’t exist and instead will contribute to voter suppression, Fried said at a briefing in Tallahassee.

“We had no issues at the polls. We had no issues at the ballot boxes. We had no issues counting ballots,” Fried said. “The only fraud that I saw was by the Republicans. Yet, we needed this piece of legislation?”

DeSantis defended his signing of the bill on a live Fox News broadcast, saying it was available for a national audience.

Over 4.8 million Floridians used vote-by-mail ballots in the November 2020 election. More Democrats than Republicans voted by mail, 2.1 million compared to 1.5 million, according to data from Florida’s Department of State.

Florida was widely praised for running a smooth election in 2020. Its next big test will be in 2022, when two of the state’s top Republicans—DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio—run for re-election.

The cases are League of Women Voters v. Laurel Lee, N.D. Fla., No. 4:21-cv-00186, 5/6/21 and Florida State Conference of Branches and Youth Units of the NAACP v. Laurel Lee, N.D. Fla., No. 4:21-cv-00187, 5/6/21

(Updates with second lawsuit filed and links to complaints.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com

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