Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Election Bill Into Law - What Does It Do?
Do you support or oppose the Florida election law?
What’s the story?
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday signed an election reform bill into law that advocates say makes common sense reforms to election laws and critics call an effort to suppress voter participation.
- DeSantis said the law will “increase transparency and strengthen the security of our elections” and that, “Floridians can rest assured that our state will remain a leader in ballot integrity. Elections should be free and fair, and these changes will ensure this continues to be the case in the Sunshine State.”
- Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), a former governor who announced this week that he’s challenging DeSantis for the governorship next year, likened the election law to “cruel and unusual punishment” for voters and accused DeSantis and his fellow Republicans of “trying to suppress the vote.”
- Here’s a look at what’s in the new law and how it compares to previous election policy in Florida:
What does the Florida election law do?
- Florida voters have been required to show a photo ID when voting in person, and the new law extends that requirement to voters who drop off their ballot at a staffed ballot drop box.
- Voters will be required to provide their Florida driver’s license or ID card number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number when they update the address associated with their voter registration or request a mail ballot in person or over the phone.
- Florida voters who wish to vote by mail will have to apply each year in which they intend to do so. Under current law, approved mail ballot applications are valid for the next two general elections. All mail ballot requests submitted before this bill’s effective data (which is July 1, 2021) will be valid for 2022, which is the next general election, but not the 2024 general election.
- Third-party groups are prohibited by the new law from mass collection of mail-in ballots at nursing homes and assisted living facilities (a practice known as “ballot harvesting”).
- Under current Florida law, immediate family members are allowed to deliver each other’s mail-in ballots, and a person can deliver up to two ballots from people they aren’t related to. The new law expands the definition of “immediate family” to include the grandchildren of a voter.
- Florida law allows recipients of vote-by-mail ballots to turn their ballots into early voting locations and drop boxes if they decide not to mail it. The new law requires that drop boxes can only be placed at early voting sites or election supervisors’ offices, can only be utilized by voters during the early voting period, and must be monitored full-time by elections staff (in the 2020 election, drop boxes were available in some counties prior to the start of early voting due to the pandemic). Drop box locations must be published 30 days in advance of election day.
- When early voting hours end on each day of early voting, the new law requires that all drop boxes are emptied and ballots returned to the local election supervisor’s office. Ballot retrieval must occur before elections staff stop monitoring a drop box on a given day.
- The new law also states that 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.”
- Election officials who are found to be in non-compliance with drop box provisions of the law will be subject to a fine of $25,000.
BALLOT & SIGNATURE VERIFICATION
- Candidates, political parties, political committee officials, or someone serving as their authorized designee will be granted reasonable access upon request to review or inspect ballot materials before canvassing or tabulations, including voter certificates on vote-by-mail envelopes, cure affidavits, corresponding comparison signatures, or duplicate ballots and their corresponding originals.
- Supervisors are required to publish notice of the access to be provided under this section, including access to documents and images of them, in addition to the method for requesting such access. No person granted access to a review is allowed to make a copy of a signature or handle ballots.
- Canvassers and elections workers who duplicate a ballot would be required to allow observers to see the duplication in such a way that they can see markings on each ballot, and would be required to clearly label the duplicate. Duplications must occur with the presence of at least one canvassing board member.
- Observers would be able to request duplications for undervoted or overvoted races if there is a clear indication on the ballot that the voter made a definite choice in the undervoted race or ballot measure. A duplicate cannot include a vote if the voter’s intent in such a race isn’t clear. Canvassing boards are required to determine the validity of duplicate ballots if an objection is made.
- Existing Florida law provides for a zone of 100 feet around polling places, early voting sites, and drop box locations in which solicitation activities (e.g. campaign staff attempting to persuade voters) are prohibited.
- The new law extends that zone by an additional 50 feet, creating a 150 foot buffer zone that insulates voters in line at polling places, early voting sites, and drop box locations from solicitation by campaign staff or third-party groups.
- The new law prohibits campaign staff and third-party groups from “engaging in any activity with the intent or effect of influencing a voter”. That definition doesn’t explicitly prohibit campaign staff or third-party groups from providing food and water to voters in line, and the law leaves that open to interpretation.
- Non-partisan election officials and poll workers are expressly allowed to provide items such as food and water to voters who are standing in line under the law, which is a continuation and affirmation of prior law.
- Election officials are prohibited under the new law from accepting any private donation or grant for election administration purposes unless it’s in the form of space or buildings to be used as voting sites.
- Election officials are required to post real-time turnout data along with data on the number of mail ballots counted and received on Election Day.
- Election officials are required by the new law to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of online voter registration websites at least once every two years based on standards set by the Dept. of Management Services.
- Additionally, the comprehensive risk assessment must include load testing and stress testing to ensure the system has capacity for high-volume use in periods preceding the election; screening computers and networks that support the online voter registration system for malware and vulnerabilities; fortify databases from cyberattacks; and identify anticipated threats to the security and integrity of data collected, maintained, received, or transmitted by the registration system.
- Local elections officials are restricted from entering into a settlement, consent decree, or other order that nullifies, suspends, or conflicts with any provision of Florida election laws without promptly notifying the attorney general and the leaders of the state House and Senate.
- State and local elections officials are prohibited from soliciting, accepting, using, or disposing of donations of money, grants, property, or personal services from an individual or non-government entity for the purpose of funding voter education, voter outreach, or registration programs. This provision doesn’t prohibit the use of space for a polling room or an early voting site.
THIRD-PARTY VOTER REGISTRATION
- Third-party organizations that conduct voter registration drives and collect or handle voter registration applications are required by the new law to register with the state and comply with requirements (groups that merely solicit applications but don’t collect or handle them are exempt from this section).
- Third-party groups that collect or handle voter registration applications are required to promptly deliver the applications in an applicant’s county within no more than 14 days of being completed by the applicant and prior to the close of the registration period for the upcoming election.
- They must also notify the applicant at the time of collection that the third-party group might not deliver the application prior to the deadline and that the applicant may do it themselves in person or by mail, in addition to informing the applicant that they’re able to register online directly with the elections division and how they can determine the application has been delivered.
- The new law also makes corresponding changes to punishments for third-party groups that fail to deliver voter registration applications. Third-party groups would face a fine of $50 for each application not delivered within 14 days of receipt (or $250 if they acted willfully); $100 for each application received by elections officials after the registration period has closed (or $500 if they acted willfully); and $500 for each application that isn’t submitted to elections officials in the proper county (or $1,000 if they acted willfully).
— Eric Revell