THE ISSUE: Proposed vote-by-mail legislation.
OUR OPINION: Partisan changes for an imaginary problem.
After two decades of fine-tuning its election law, Florida got it right during the 2020 election, despite the challenge of a pandemic and a record turnout of nearly 9 million voters fueled by 4.6 million mail-in ballots.
While the 2020 vote-by-mail experiences of some states have spawned political controversy and voter angst, Florida’s orderly vote-by-mail experience was an acclaimed model for the nation that earned praise from federal and state officials and, most importantly, the trust of Florida voters.
Given Florida’s exemplary 2020 election, one would not expect state lawmakers to meddle with success. However, the overzealous concerns of some Republican lawmakers stemming from the vote-by-mail experiences of other states have prompted an unnecessary stirring of the pot.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that vote-by-mail closely parallels in-person voting with no party having a consistent advantage. Integrity Florida found that typical Democratic constituencies had higher rejection rates for mail-in ballots. And Florida law enforcement agencies have not noted any credible vote-by-mail fraud allegation.
The most convincing testimony supporting the integrity of Florida’s vote-by-mail process comes from former President Donald Trump. Although he publicly questioned the vote-by-mail integrity of five states, he did not utter a single criticism of Florida’s electoral system.
Not content to let well enough alone, Sen. Dennis Baxley,(R-Ocala, and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, filed SB 90 and HB 7041, respectively, which propose unnecessary vote-by-mail changes for Florida voters. While both bills are purportedly in the interest of election integrity and contain a sweetener or two, their onerous changes would leave Florida voters with a bitter taste.
Senate Bill 90 would require a purge of all mail ballot requests on file; renewal of mail ballot requests annually instead of the current two-year general election cycle; and elimination of ballot drop boxes now required at all elections offices and early voting sites.
House Bill 7041 would make it harder to vote-by-mail by banning the collection of mail ballots by one person; restricting drop boxes at early voting sites; allowing partisan operatives to file case-by-case challenges to signature verification programs; and prohibiting the giving of water or snacks to voters standing in line at the polls.
Crafted without any professional input from Florida’s 67 county supervisors of elections, the Florida Supervisors of Elections strongly oppose the proposed changes for good cause.
They would be a step backward for providing voters with convenient and ample opportunities to cast their ballots. Requesting mail ballots annually would cause confusion and greatly impact military and elderly voters. Eliminating drop boxes would hinder voters who prefer to return their mail-in ballots in person. Managing the changes and educating the public would create a time consuming and costly burden for the supervisors of elections.
Rather than pursuing a wrongheaded partisan concern for an imaginary problem, Republican lawmakers should instead turn their attention to fine-tuning the current system by listening to those who deal with elections firsthand — the state’s 67 supervisors of elections.