Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law an election reform bill Thursday that he said safeguards elections. Some, however, are now claiming the new law amounts to voter suppression.
Patricia Brigham, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida called the law “un-American.”
“The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color. It’s a despicable attempt by a one-party-ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot. It’s undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American.”
In a letter to DeSantis sent before the bill was signed, more than 20 local and national activist groups, including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, encouraged DeSantis to veto the bill, claiming it sought “to silence voters’ voices based on what they look like or where they come from.”
A lawsuit filed by a collection of activist groups including the League of Women Voters of Florida alleged the new legislation “is crafted to and will operate to make it more difficult for certain types of voters to participate in the state’s elections.” They claimed those disenfranchised by the bill included “voters who generally wish to vote with a vote-by-mail ballot,” young voters, minorities, and senior citizens.
???? SEE YOU IN COURT!
We are joining our folks at @LWVFlorida, @ActiveRetirees, and individual voters in the state of Florida in filing a lawsuit against all 67 Florida counties challenging the voter suppression law, SB 90!
— Black Voters Matter (@BlackVotersMtr) May 6, 2021
One reason the suit cites as evidence of voter suppression is the law allegedly “severely reduces access to vote-by-mail drop boxes.”
In the letter sent to DeSantis, activists groups say “Black and brown voters work longer hours and live in larger households, making changes such as cutting out 24-hour drop boxes and limiting help with ballot delivery into proportionately greater barriers.”
The law requires an election supervisor to designate drop box locations at least 30 days before an election and prohibits the locations from being changed after their initial designation. The drop boxes must be placed “at the main office of the supervisor, at each permanent branch office of the supervisor, and at each early voting site.”
The law notes, however, drop boxes may only be used during early voting hours and must be monitored by an employee of the supervisor’s office. The drop-boxes that will not be open 24/7.
DeSantis told Fox News on Thursday that he isn’t a fan of drop boxes and that “they need to be monitored.”
“You can’t just leave these boxes out where there’s no supervision,” he added.
The new law prohibits “certain solicitation of voters at drop box locations,” and increases the “no-solicitation zone surrounding a drop box location.”
The legislation explicitly states drop boxes have to be placed in locations that all voters have equal access. (RELATED: Georgia’s New Voting Law – Myths And Facts)
“Drop boxes must be geographically located so as to provide all voters in the county with an equal opportunity to cast a ballot, insofar as is practicable.”
The new law also bans so-called ballot harvesting, which the suit alleges amounts to voter suppression because organizations and volunteers cannot help voters return their mail-in ballots.
Ballot harvesting is the practice of collecting absentee ballots from a voter’s home and dropping them off at a voting location. The text prohibits any person from “distributing, ordering, requesting, collecting, delivering, or otherwise physically possessing more than two vote-by-mail ballots of other electors per election, not including immediate family members.”
An immediate family member is defined as a person’s spouse, child, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling.
A recent poll by the Honest Elections Project found 62% of voters surveyed think ballot harvesting should be illegal.
Another reason the law has been criticized as suppressing voters is because it bans third parties from “engaging in any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter” within 150 feet of a polling location. The suit argues that the so-called “line warming ban” hurts voters who will not be able to obtain assistance while voting or getting food or water.
“[It] appears to prevent voters waiting in line to vote from interacting with or receiving food and water from individuals and members of third-party organizations.”
The legislation makes clear that employees or volunteers with the supervisor are permitted to provide “nonpartisan assistance to voters within the no-solicitation zone such as, but not limited to, giving items to voters, or to prohibit exit polling.”
It is unclear whether the law will prohibit volunteers or employees with the supervisor to distribute items such as food or water.