EDITORIAL: Proposed election laws amount to voter suppression

Palm Beach Post editorial Board

To hear Gov. Ron DeSantis tell it, Florida “had the smoothest, most successful election of any state in the country.” Yet, if he has his way, Republicans in the Florida Legislature will pass new laws that will suppress the vote in order to ensure “election integrity” in future contests.

In a playbook Republicans across the country are using after President Joe Biden’s decisive victory in November, DeSantis announced his support for new restrictions on voting by mail and on ballot drop boxes, needed, he claims, to clean up election nightmares that have plagued the state's reputation since the neck-and-neck George Bush vs. Al Gore fight in 2000.

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There’s a bill already filed in the Florida Senate that would change the rules on vote-by-mail requests to be made every election year instead of every two years — and retroactively cancel requests already made for 2022 races. Now that the Florida Legislature has convened, expect more changes to SB 90 as it moves through the committee process over the next two months.

A voter puts her mail-in ballot at an official drop-off box outside a voting location at the Palm Gardens Branch Library in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on October 19, 2020. (GREG LOVETT / THE PALM BEACH POST)

“Let’s stay ahead of the curve on election administration,” DeSantis urged state lawmakers during Tuesday's State of the State address. “We never want to see the chaos of 20 years ago rear its ugly head in the state of Florida ever again.”

Not that it has. And whatever localized hiccups we have had hasn't hurt Republicans, who now control all but one statewide office and both House and Senate chambers, and stacked the state Supreme Court with conservative judges.

The November elections were almost flawless by Florida’s standards. Voting occurred without a hitch and Republicans did well, ousting two Democrats from Congress and gaining seats in the state Legislature. Yet, the governor claims changes are needed to safeguard the sanctity of future elections.

Any initiative to curb voting by mail is likely to hinder voter participation. According to state Division of Elections data, more than 4.8 million voters cast mail-in ballots in the 2020 general election, about 43.5% of the 11 million Floridians who participated in the election. For years, mail-in voting had been a favorite of Florida Republicans. But during the pandemic year of 2020, when Democrats encouraged mailed-in rather than in-person voting.

If anything, DeSantis’ idea of election reform seems geared toward boosting his re-election chances in 2022.

At a rally in West Palm Beach on Feb. 19, DeSantis and state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, laid out a voter suppression blueprint. It includes a measure prohibiting people from possessing ballots other than their own or those of immediate family members.

DeSantis even believes ballot drop boxes at secure locations — like early voting sites, libraries, senior centers and supervisor of elections’ offices — are a problem. Drop boxes had been free of controversy, but you’d never know it listening to Ingoglia, a former chairman of the state's Republican Party. He insists state law be changed to rein in a supposed cabal of elections supervisors run amok.

To that, we say, “balderdash, “hogwash” and “malarkey.” Florida’s election process isn’t broke. DeSantis, however, insists on "fixing" it.