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House Approves Elections Changes, Sends Bill Back To Senate

Florida boasted a largely issue-free election last year. Democratic State Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, asks why fix what’s not broken?

“This bill, this amendment is a slap in the supervisors of elections faces, after an election that you say, we say, was one of the best we’ve had," Davis, a former deputy supervisor of elections for Duval County, said.

The proposal before lawmakers will require ballot drop boxes be monitored during early voting. It would restrict who can drop of a ballot for someone else, allow only local elections officials to distribute food and water to people with 150 feet of a voting site, and create new language around voter identification and signature matching.

"We have guardrails on in-person voting. We have zero guardrails on vote-by-mail. All we’re doing is putting guardrails. We’re not restricting anyone’s access to the ballot," said House bill sponsor, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia.

Where Ingoglia sees guardrails, democrats see restrictions.

"The sponsor of this bill refers these changes as guardrails. I refer to these changes as hurdles or barriers for people to deliver their vote. And I feel it does nothing to secure the safety or sanctity of this election," said Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston.

The proposal is coming over the opposition of local supervisors of elections who have opposed several requirements of the bill—such as language requiring voters to request mail-in ballots each election instead of every-other cycle, and new rules around how ballots are counted and audited—an issue that would generate more paperwork and long lines.

“Your Republican voters are going to be caught in this mess and be aggravated. The Democratic voters will be caught in this mess and aggravated, your independent voters, the seniors..." said Bartleman.

The Senate approved its version of the plan Monday. The measure will have to go back to that chamber due to House changes.

Senate bill sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, believes the chambers can work out the differences. The 2020 lawmaking session is set to end Friday.

“We are already doing some calculations about where we might be able to meet, and where these two bills may still be different a little bit,” Baxley said. “But I think we have a very high prospect of working that out very quickly.”

During Monday's Senate debate, Republican senator and state GOP Chairman Joe Gruters called the changes modest.

"This does nothing to suppress the vote. It does nothing to restrict the vote. What we are trying to do is make sure we preserve our sacred duty and right of having every vote count," he said.

Georgia, Arizona, Florida and Texas , Michigan and New Hampshire all saw bills introduced to change election laws following the results of the 2020 cycle. The Florida legislature is set to conclude its business Friday.

Copyright 2021 WFSU

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.