Florida: ATTACKS ON THE RIGHT TO VOTE

voters vote in elections

 During Friday's late-night session, the Florida Senate voted 23-15 to send the bill to the House, where it is expected to appear for a vote and be sent to the governor next week. Democrats briefly debated against the legislation, while a Republican senator pointed to a string of individual fraud cases – most of them allegedly by Republicans or GOP agents – since the 2020 election. “What are we really afraid of here? Are we worried that our election is too secure?” said Senator Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, the bill's sponsor. Senate Bill 524 was one of Governor Ron DeSantis' top priorities, but the bill has changed significantly from what he originally asked for. It will still make more than a dozen changes to the state's election laws, including:

• The establishment of a 15-member Election Crime and Security Bureau to investigate fraud complaints at the office of the secretary of state, which reports to the governor. 

• Add 10 state troopers, selected by the governor. 

• Require election inspectors to clear their voter lists annually, not every two years. 

• Change the name of the voting booth to “voice reception post”. 

• Imposing a $1,000 fine for changing someone's party registration without their consent: Reaction to journalists who discovered that the party affiliation of some voters in Miami-Dade County was accidentally changed to Republican by a Republican pollster. 

• And make some election crimes serious third-degree crimes, punishable by up to five years in prison, instead of misdemeanors.


Lawmakers have dropped some of their most controversial ideas, such as a proposal to require voters to add the last four digits of their Social Security number or state-issued ID to their ballots. A Republican election watchdog called the requirement a "recipe for disaster." Instead, the bill now requires the secretary of state to submit plans to adopt such a system statewide. DeSantis also wants the election security office to exercise control over investigations into local elections, something GOP lawmakers have never proposed. Some who believe there was widespread rigging in the 2020 election have been angered by the change. 

On Friday, the bill was criticized by Democrat and Republican Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, who admitted that he thought some components, such as more frequent list maintenance, were a good idea. However, assigning so many people to pursue the fraud case is "really almost funny," Brandes said, describing the rest of it as "ridiculous." In 2020, the State Secretariat's voter fraud hotline received 262 reports, 75 of which were deemed credible enough to be referred to law enforcement. Brandes said the Legislature passed a law last year prohibiting people from making code complaints anonymously. But calls to the voter fraud hotline can be made anonymously, even though the crime of voter fraud is now considered a crime. "For me, this inconsistency is something I can't support," he said.


Senator Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, said he was concerned about giving the governor so much power. Other Democrats said the change was unnecessary, as DeSantis said the 2020 election went without a hitch. Senator Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said the bill should be renamed from "election administration" to "voter intimidation and voter suppression, because that's exactly what we're doing here." While Democrats and voting rights groups show the state's well-documented history of disenfranchising Florida and other African Americans, they have struggled to pinpoint examples of individual voters who would be harmed by the proposed changes. Hutson, the only Republican arguing in favor of the bill on Friday, said he had heard all the claims that last year's bill amounted to "voter suppression." “When I returned home, I heard everything. It was said over and over again,” Hutson said. 

"However, as of today, there is no evidence of that with the SB 90." Voting rights groups say recent laws have created a dire effect on election watchdogs, and they say Republicans are enacting rules that make it harder to submit ballots by mail. Third-party registration groups also say recent changes have made it harder for new voters to register. But finding individual cases has been a challenge, and Republicans have shown that it's easier to vote in Florida than in some Democrat-controlled states.
"It's hard to single out one voter that something has happened, but there is data that shows there is a problem," said Brad Ashwell, Florida state director of All Voting is Local, a voting rights group that has testified against the law. "Our general sentiment about this is that we would rather have them oversee improvements to our electoral system than continue to complicate voting."

The legislation comes after two recent legislative battles over the vote. Last year Senate Bill 90, also requested by DeSantis, purportedly to eliminate voter fraud following President Donald Trump's claims regarding the 2020 election. The law limits voting at polling stations: The law requires voters to provide a social security number or number identification when requesting a ballot, for example, as well as many other changes, mostly administrative. And, in 2019, at DeSantis' urging, Republican lawmakers drew a hard line on a constitutional amendment known as Amendment 4, which restored the right to elect people on felony convictions who completed "full terms of sentence."

 "This is a continuing attack on the right to vote," said Genesis Robinson, political director of Equal Ground, an organization that advocates for voting rights. Robinson reminded lawmakers of some of that history this week. "Whether it's literacy tests, accurate counting of the amount of chewing gum in a jar, or the use of law enforcement at polling stations as a means of intimidation, the history of voter suppression of people of color runs deep and continues to this day," he said. Tell them.


However, in court, the voting rights group was unsuccessful. The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld Senate Bill 7066, which limited the 4th Amendment despite claims that it constituted an unconstitutional "poll tax"; During a court challenge to Senate Bill 90 last month, US District Judge Mark Walker was skeptical of arguments that the law was expressly designed to target people of color. "Isn't it easy to justify that the law was passed to make the previous president happy?" Walker said. 

Walker has not yet handed down a sentence in the case. Democrats, election watchdogs and voting rights groups say the recent legislation is having a real effect. In Walker's trial, Leon County Election Supervisory Board Mark Early testified that inspectors had resigned due to recent changes, noting that last year's law, which imposed a $25,000 fine on inspectors who violated the ballot box law, "is yet another attack." , basically, on the election administrators who have to work.” “It's been a very tough work environment,” says Early. 

Pasco County Election Supervisor Brian Corley testified that his staff had faced threats and received racist abuse. It released a statement about a month after the 2020 election, condemning "baseless claims and misinformation meant to undermine the election results." "I just felt the need to speak the truth and reality," said Corley, who is a Republican.





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