TALLAHASSEE – The members of the public who took to the podium to offer their opinion on the Florida Senate’s just-unveiled election bill had to speed-talk to touch on even a sliver of its 98-pages.
They were limited to only one minute of testimony — a minute many partially used to blast the legislative process. The bill, which the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee approved along party lines Tuesday, was made public just 24 hours before the meeting.
“Sorry if I read most of this. I’m a little tired from being up very late reading the bill,” Brad Ashwell, Florida state director of All Voting is Local, told lawmakers, papers in hand.
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Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, called the process “really pretty awful.”
Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, defending that process, said the time the bill took to see the light of day reflected “prudence.”
“We wanted to, when we release a product, to have it as close to right as we possibly could,” said Burgess, the committee chair.
He said there was more work to be done on that legislation, Senspante Bill 7050, but there was time to figure it out as it traveled though committees, though it’s not currently known how many committees or where the bill will land next.
“Florida is the gold standard for elections,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re not proactive.”
Florida has passed major election legislation annually since the 2020 election, when former President Donald Trump and his supporters spread false claims of widespread voter fraud.
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This year’s legislation makes a flurry of changes. Here are some of the key takeaways:
Third-party voter registration orgs
Third-party voter registration organizations would be required to register with the state before each general election, under the legislation. Currently, the organization’s registration exists until that organization requests cancelation.
It would reduce the amount of time the organizations have to submit voter registration applications, while also increasing the fines for late submission and other violations. It also requires those organizations to give applicants a receipt, which Burgess said he thought was one of the most important parts of the bill.
The aggregate fine that could be levied against an organizations would double to $100,000. The organizations had a $1,000 fine cap before last year. The bill also says organizations that retain personal information from applications are committing a third-degree felony.
“We’re making sure that they understand the immense responsibility that they are taking on when they acquire some of these voter applications,” Burgess said.
Polsky said that legislation would hurt third-party organizations and the people they register.
“Each year we’ve made it harder and harder for them to operate,” she said. “And they do help people in lower-income groups and out there in the communities.”
Felony for harassing election workers
The bill would make it a third-degree felony to “intimidate, threaten, coerce, harass, or attempt to do any of those things to an election worker with the intent to impede or interfere with the election worker’s official duties or with the intent to retaliate against the election worker for the performance of official duties.”
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A report released last year by a Democrat-led congressional committee found that elections officials in Florida and three other states were being harassed and threatened amid a torrent of unfounded allegations of election fraud.
“We should not have to work or live like this, but we feel we have targets on our backs,” wrote Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley — who is also president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections organization — in response to questions from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
Right now, Florida candidates and political committees are required to report their campaign contributions every month for most of the election — becoming more frequent closer to Election Day.
This bill would make those reporting requirements quarterly until close to Election Day, and disallows local governments from enacting more frequent requirements.
Advocates’ voter eligibility concerns not addressed
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Voting rights advocates say it can be difficult for those previously incarcerated to figure out if they’re eligible to vote. If you get it wrong, you could face up to five years in prison and a third-degree felony.
They have long-called for a statewide database so previously-incarcerated Floridians can easily determine their eligibility, such as by telling them if they have any outstanding fines or legal fees.
This bill wouldn’t do that. Instead, it would double down on putting the onus on voters if they get it wrong. It adds the following statement to voter registration cards: “This card is for information purposes only. This card is proof of registration but is not legal verification of the eligibility to vote. It is the responsibility of a voter to keep his or her eligibility status current.”
“This is another year that the Legislature is pushing through another major election bills, and there is no included mechanism for returning citizens to quickly and easily determine if they’re eligible to vote,” said Abdelilah Skhir, voting rights policy strategist for the ACLU of Florida.
The shadow of ERIC
This legislation comes a month after Florida departed from the Electronic Registration Information Center after more than three years of membership. ERIC is a data-sharing partnership between a majority of states with a goal to keep voter rolls accurate.
“Nothing stops us from continuing to share that information with sister states who value voter integrity,” said Secretary of State Cord Byrd in an interview with One America News.
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The program has been plagued by more than a year of fspanlse clspanims by far-right critics, including former President Donald Trump and other election conspiracists, that ERIC data is being used to help liberal groups.
Voting rights advocates have blasted the move, accusing the departing states of cspanving to conspirspancy theories and saying the states leaving ERIC are losing out on an irreplaceably valuable way to maintain accurate voter rolls.
The election bill also addresses voter roll maintenance. Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, worries the lack of ERIC will lead to people getting removed from those rolls without cause.
“This is headed for a major crash, because we know, in this realm, there is no other reliable source,” Scoon said.
The legislation also addresses the mail-in ballot process, such as by moving back a day the deadlines for sending in a mail-in ballot and submitting a mail-in ballot request.
Burgess said the change is “continuing the commitment to security of vote-by-mail ballots,” but opponents said it complicated the process and made it harder to vote via mail.
The bill also requires first-time voters without a Florida driver license, a Florida identification card or a social security number to vote in person the first time, removing the vote-by-mail option.
Burgess said the legislation is dealing with a “really small pool of people,” due to the social security card allowance.
Jayden D’Onofrio, a high school senior from Broward County and president of Florida Voters of Tomorrow, a youth voting advocacy group, said the provision would affect thousands of high school and college students from out-of-state who don’t have state identification and don’t have their social security cards.
“Those kids will now be required to vote in person, rather than by mail, which is going to completely eliminate an entire voting demographic,” D’Onofrio said.
Ashwell from All Voting is Local said figuring out who the provision applies to is one of the many things advocates are trying figure out about the bill.
“We’re processing this bill in real time,” he said. “We’re still studying the bill.”