‘Wrong Direction': Democrats, Groups Criticize DeSantis Over Florida Election Bill

Top state Democrats Charlie Crist, Nikki Fried speak out after governor's bill signing

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Democrats from the White House to state lawmakers are slamming Gov. Ron DeSantis' signing of a new Florida elections bill.

DeSantis signed the bill into law Thursday, tightening rules around drop boxes and mail-in voting that the Republican governor said will help prevent fraud in elections in the Sunshine State.

The new law restricts when ballot drop boxes can be used, and who can collect ballots — and how many. It mandates that drop boxes must be guarded, and available only when elections offices and early voting sites are open. To protect against “ballot harvesting,” an electoral Good Samaritan can only collect and return the ballots of immediate family, and no more than two from unrelated people.

“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 not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes and dump them in some drop box.”

Courtesy WPTV-TV

Democrats and voter rights advocates said the move will make it harder for some voters to cast ballots.

"There are some states with bad laws that are trying to make them good and some states with good laws trying to make them even better. That's moving forward. Florida is moving in the wrong direction," White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.

“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,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The league joined the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and others in assailing the new law in a federal lawsuit filed minutes after the signing. A separate federal suit filed in Tallahassee by the NAACP and Common Cause also says the law targets people who are Black, Latino or disabled.

“For far too long, Florida’s lawmakers and elected officials have created a vast array of hurdles that have made it more difficult for these and other voters to make their voices heard,” these groups said.

DeSantis had staged his bill-signing live on the "Fox & Friends" show, with no other media outlets allowed.

Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Florida governor who announced his challenge of DeSantis this week, tweeted, “This is the difference between @GovRonDeSantis and me. He locks out the public and caters to FOX News. When I was Governor, everyone was invited in — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. And when I’m Governor again, this will be a Florida for all.”

Democrats acknowledge that the Florida law doesn't appear to be as draconian as one one recently approved in Georgia, a flashpoint in this national debate. But both laws contain some similar provisions.

In addition to similar drop box rules, the Florida law also extends a no-influence zone to 150 feet (50 meters) from 100 feet around polling places, which could prevent people from supplying food and water to people waiting in line. 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 of up to $25,000.

The Florida law also requires that a voter changing registration data provide an identifying number, possibly a driver’s license number or a partial Social Security Number, which advocates say could add a layer of inconvenience and keep people from being able to vote.

The new law also requires voters who want an absentee ballot to apply for one every election 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.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat and another possible DeSantis challenger in 2022, held a news conference to denounce the bill's signing.

"We are no longer a free state, this governor has infringed upon our rights once again," Fried said.

NBC 6 and AP
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