DeSantis Signs Controversial Elections Bill; Opponents Sue
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed an elections overhaul that was one of the most-contentious issues of the 2021 legislative session, as opponents immediately filed a lawsuit alleging that the measure is unconstitutional.DeSantis, who will be on the ballot in 2022 as he seeks a second term as governor, signed the bill (SB 90) on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends” after an event with supporters in West Palm Beach.
Flanked by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez and Republican lawmakers, DeSantis during the television appearance called the bill the “strongest election integrity measures in the country” and said it “keeps us ahead of the curve” after Florida had a smooth 2020 election.
“We’re not resting on our laurels, and me signing this bill here says, ‘Florida, your vote counts, your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy,’” DeSantis said.
But a coalition of opponents, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, Black Voters Matter Fund Inc. and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee, contending that the bill violates First Amendment rights and would place an "undue burden on the right to vote." The lawsuit named as defendants Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Attorney General Ashley Moody and county supervisors of elections from throughout Florida.
"SB 90 does not impede all of Florida’s voters equally. It is crafted to and will operate to make it more difficult for certain types of voters to participate in the state’s elections, including those voters who generally wish to vote with a vote-by-mail ballot and voters who have historically had to overcome substantial hurdles to reach the ballot box, such as Florida’s senior voters, youngest voters and minority
voters," the lawsuit said.
DeSantis and GOP lawmakers argued that the bill, which addresses issues such as voting by mail, is needed to ensure secure elections. But Democrats and many voting-rights groups said the bill would suppress voting after a November election in which Democrats far outdistanced Republicans in voting by mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections Vicky Oakes is among those opposed to the bill DeSantis signed. "Under the new law, New restrictions on the vote by mail drop boxes will greatly limit their use and the hours they will be available to voters to return their voted ballots. Supervisors who allow dropped ballots outside those hours can be personally fined $25,000," Oakes told WJCT News, adding her county had a strong voter turnout that hit 85% in November's presidential election.
Republican lawmakers in many states have pushed for new elections restrictions as former President Donald Trump has continued to falsely blame “rigged” and fraudulent elections for Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in November. Courts rejected numerous lawsuits in which Trump and his supporters challenged the handling of the November elections. Trump defeated Biden handily in Florida.
The Florida bill addresses a series of issues, including the use of drop boxes for mail-in ballots. Drop boxes became a flashpoint last year, as elections officials wrangled with DeSantis’ administration over the location of the boxes and whether they needed to be manned at all times.
The bill will allow supervisors to use drop boxes at early voting sites and “permanent” branch offices, so long as the boxes are staffed by their employees. Among other changes, the bill will require voters to request mail-in ballots more frequently than in the past.
Also, DeSantis said the bill addresses issues such as preventing ballot “harvesting,” which involves people and groups being able to collect and deliver ballots for voters.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, criticized the bill this week, saying it would disenfranchise voters.
“They came for your voting rights with SB 90, limiting mail ballots and drop boxes which proved essential during a global pandemic,” Fried said.
Even before DeSantis signed the bill, some opponents were threatening to challenge the changes in court. The League of United Latin American Citizens sent out a news release early Thursday saying it plans to file a lawsuit against the state.
“These changes are deliberately designed to affect mostly people of color and are being enacted at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis,” Domingo Garcia, national president of the group known as LULAC, said in a prepared statement. “Voter suppression aimed at American citizens just because they are brown or black is disgraceful, un-American, and frankly unprincipled.”
- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban and WJCT News' Cyd Hoskinson contributed to this report.