Ron DeSantis’ electoral strength in Florida draws opposition from voter groups

Senate Republicans are moving forward with strict new election security measures despite scathing attacks from voter rights advocates and county election supervisors who say the changes will confuse Floridians and prevent many from voting.

Among the measures: A scaled-down version of an Election Crimes and Security Bureau wanted by Governor Ron DeSantis, who envisioned a powerful 52-person, nearly $6 million agency ready to investigate possible voter fraud and other wrongdoing.

Governor Ron DeSantis called for a new election security force at an event in West Palm Beach last fall.

“I don’t know why we need this unless it’s to make a political statement,” Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, told the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Tuesday.

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DeSantis praised the state’s electoral performance in the 2020 election. But he never strayed from his political mentor, former President Donald Trump, who continues to advance the baseless claim that fraud election cost him the White House.

The legislation (SB 524) by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, reduced DeSantis’ security forces to 15 personnel, who would perform “clerical” work, he said – reporting potential wrongdoing by Floridians which would then be forwarded to 10 Department of Health investigators. Florida law enforcement.

Like the governor, Hutson said Florida’s 2020 election went well. But as he told the committee, “Why would we stop there? … Who’s afraid of being too safe?

Senator Travis Hutson sits at his desk on the first day of the Florida Legislature's 2021 Special Session on Gambling at the Capitol on Monday, May 17, 2021.

Bill approved by party line vote

The bill was approved in a party-line vote by the Senate panel, the first stop for yet another overhaul of Florida’s election laws set to pass the government-controlled Senate and House. the Republicans.

While most provisions of Hutson’s bill would not go into effect until January 2024, or before the next presidential election, a federal lawsuit is underway just blocks from the state Capitol. challenging the constitutionality of electoral changes signed into law last year by Florida lawmakers.

This new election law, under fire from voter groups and civil rights organizations, adds new limits on mail-in ballots, the location of ballot boxes and the delivery of individual ballots by d others, what DeSantis and other critics have called ballot collecting.

Mail-in ballots and the management of ballots are addressed again in Hutson’s bill, unveiled just a day before Tuesday’s hearing on ethics and elections.

“More confusing steps will deter voting,” warned Joey McKinnon of Faith in Public Life, among several organizations critical of the legislation.

Cecile Scoon is president of the Florida League of Women Voters.

A trouble-free 2020 competition

Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, also said the latest changes were unnecessary: ​​”It’s unfortunate that the reward of the exception process is more limitations…when there are no no demonstrated need.”

County election supervisors, including Mark Earley of Leon County and Wesley Wilcox of Marion County, also told the committee the legislation could cause more problems, with increased demands for information from voters submitting absentee ballots and supervisors who would be required to further filter voter lists. frequently to weed out voters who are no longer qualified.

Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays, a former longtime state senator, told former colleagues they were out of touch with the changes.

Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays seen here when he was a state senator in this undated file photo.

He targeted a central provision of the bill that requires an additional certification envelope to be included with a returned ballot. On it, voters would for the first time be required to include the last four digits of their voter’s driver’s license number, national identity card or social security card.

“It’s a recipe for disaster,” Hays said, explaining that it would force supervisors to contact voters who cast their ballots about any missing information.

“This will raise the ire of voters,” he warned of the new requirement for additional identification.

Supervisors seek to improve the bill

Hays also said supervisors were willing to help Hutson improve his proposal, an offer the senator said he would accept.

“Please use us as your source for election information,” Hays said. “Don’t depend on the internet, don’t depend on social media, don’t depend on anyone but Florida election professionals…who ran the best election in the country of 2020.”

Other provisions of the bill also increase financial penalties for voter registration groups that fail to submit voter applications on time or other missteps. As with the Bureau of Election Crimes and Security, opponents fear that such penalties will be politicized by the governor and other state officials.

“The FDLE must follow the law, the intention is not to let them run wild,” Hutson said.

He added: “If it appeals to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to have more checks and balances, that would be something I would be happy to do.”

John Kennedy is a reporter for the Florida Capital Bureau of the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at jkennedy2@gannett.comor on Twitter at @JKennedyReport

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