Florida GOP Members Express Concern Over New Voting Law

Florida GOP Members Express Concern Over New Voting Law poll worker looks at ballot drop box A poll worker helps a voter put as she drops off her mail-in ballot at an official Miami-Dade County drive-thru ballot drop box at the Miami-Dade County Election Department in Miami, Florida on November 3, 2020. (CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

By Charlie McCarthy | Monday, 03 May 2021 08:54 AM

Some Florida Republicans are expressing concern over a party-backed new state law that includes rules for mail-in ballots.

The GOP-led state legislature, with the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., passed a bill Thursday that created new rules for voting by mail and for the use of drop boxes.

The measure followed president Donald Trump's claims that mail-in voting invites fraud, according to The Washington Post on Monday.

Democrats and voting rights advocates have said Senate Bill 90 attempted to suppress the votes of minority voters.

Some Republicans now are concerned that changing laws passed by GOP predecessors could affect a process that has benefited the party in recent years.

Nearly every narrow Republican victory in the recent past, including those involving current top state officeholders DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., was helped by mail voting.

In 2020, about 35% of Republicans who voted used mail-in ballots, according to state data compiled by University of Florida political science professor Daniel A. Smith.

"Donald Trump attempted to ruin a perfectly safe and trusted method of voting," said one longtime Republican consultant in the state who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"The main law that we pass when we pass election bills in Florida is the law of unintended consequences."

State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said the measure was necessary to shore up public confidence in elections.

"It's not going to hurt anybody, Republicans or Democrats," said Gruters, the chairman of the state GOP and a chief proponent of Senate Bill 90.

"People are going to understand the changes that we me made long before another election comes around. People will have a full grasp of what we're dealing with."

Gruters said he also would like to expand early in-person voting. "[My] goal is to make it as easy as possible to vote and as hard as possible to cheat, period,” he said.

The new law requires voters to reapply for mail ballots every two-year election cycle, rather than every four years as the previous law had allowed.

The law limits the use of drop boxes, and prohibits actions that could influence people standing in line to vote – something voting rights advocates claimed will discourage nonpartisan groups from offering food or water to waiting voters.

Mobile drop boxes now are prohibited, and local election supervisors are required to staff all drop boxes and to allow ballots to be dropped in them only during early-voting hours.

Critics also say curtailment of mail voting likely will lead to longer lines on Election Day and during early in-person voting, particularly in urban communities that already tend to suffer long wait times to vote.

The state's association of county election supervisors opposed the measure, which also limits who may turn in a voter's ballot.

After mail-in voting helped former Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., win in 1988, Republicans began working to broaden the appeal of mail voting.

They reached out to the elderly and explained how easy it could be to vote from home. They also established ballot "chase" programs that reminded Republican voters to turn in their ballots.

In 2002, the state ended its absentee voting system, intended only for voters unable to vote in person on Election Day, and replaced it with a no-excuse vote-by-mail system.

"Vote-by-mail programs for our statewide campaigns would cost $4 [million] to $5 million in the 1990s," said David Johnson, a longtime GOP consultant in the state. "It was a lot of money. But it was not at all unheard of."

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