By John Haughey
The Center Square
February 24, 2021
Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, will carry a slate of election reform measures proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis into Florida’s 60-day 2021 legislation session when it begins next week.
DeSantis unveiled his proposals Friday evening before about 100 mostly mask-less supporters in the Hilton at Palm Beach International Airport during a campaign-like rally now being investigated by Palm Beach County officials for potentially violating federal, state and local COVID-19 guidelines.
While acknowledging “Florida held the smoothest, most successful election of any state in the country,” the governor said the state “can’t rest on [its] laurels” and said he would submit a package of proposed bills to tighten regulations on vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes, impose safeguards against “ballot harvesting” and tamp down on “get out the vote” campaigns.
DeSantis’ proposals, outlined in a later Governor’s Office news release, drew swift praise from House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.
“Rather than resting on our laurels and congratulating one another on a successful 2020 election, our time is best spent preparing for 2022 and beyond,” they said in a statement. “We don’t want to backslide. We are here to keep Florida a model for the rest of America.”
The yet-to-be Florida bills join a nationwide wave of Republican-sponsored voting-related state legislation. According to the Brennan Center, as of Feb. 3, GOP lawmakers in 33 states had introduced more than 165 voting-related bills it deems “restrictive” compared to 35 in 15 states in 2020.
According to the Governor’s Office, DeSantis’ proposals provide “unprecedented election transparency for Florida.” Among provisions:
- Require drop boxes be monitored 24/7 as advised by Florida’s Secretary of State Office but largely ignored by the state’s 67 county elections supervisors. “Some of them just said go pound sand,” DeSantis said.
- Address “ballot harvesting” by prohibiting people from possessing ballots other than their own and their immediate family. Under state law, volunteers can now collect and drop off ballots.
- Ban “mass mailing of vote-by-mail ballots” by requiring only voters who request a ballot to receive a ballot.
- Require annual renewal of vote-by-mail requests. Right now, voters have two election cycles, four years, to update. Senate Bill 90, filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, would require renewal every two-year election cycle.
- SB 90 advanced through the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee 5-4 on Feb. 16 and faces two more panel hearings before a floor vote.
Vote-by-mail ballot signatures must match most recent signature on file.
- Political parties/candidates must be allowed to observe signature-matching.
- Require elections supervisors post on websites “over-vote ballots” to be considered by canvassing boards before they meet.
- Prohibit counties from receiving grants from private organizations to “get out the vote.”
- Require “real-time reporting” of precinct-level voter turnout.
- Mandate elections supervisors report how many mail-in ballots requested, received, and left to be counted.
Ingoglia said Monday he’d file DeSantis’ proposals as bills and shepherd them to adoption.
“It’s about time we outlaw the possession of anybody else’s ballot but your own,” he said, also calling for campaign/party officials to be allowed to observe signature-matching and other certification procedures.
“That needs to be open, in front and transparent for the world to see and we will demand nothing less,” he said.
If heated opposition to Baxley’s relatively tame SB 90 is indicative, the measures will be fiercely contested.
“Florida’s 2020 election was historic – record-breaking turnout and virtually no issues. We should be building on it by making it easier for Floridians to make their voices heard – not harder,” said U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, a potential 2022 gubernatorial candidate. “Gov. DeSantis’ proposal goes in the wrong direction, it’s a nakedly partisan political play.”