voting rights

Fla. Gov. DeSantis Signs GOP-Backed Elections Bill at Event Closed to Local Media

DeSantis signed SB90 during an Palm Beach County event billed as "a Fox News exclusive"

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Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a Republican-backed elections bill that places restrictions on voting by mail and ballot drop boxes while in South Florida on Thursday.

DeSantis signed SB90 during an event at a hotel near Palm Beach International Airport. He staged the signing on a live broadcast of FOX News Channel's "Fox & Friends" Thursday morning, flanked by a small group of GOP legislators in Palm Beach County. Other media organizations were shut out of the event.

DeSantis said the new law puts Florida ahead of the curve in preventing any potential fraud.

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“Right now I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country,” the governor said as he signed the bill. “We're also banning ballot harvesting. We're not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes and dump them in some drop box.”

Courtesy WPTV-TV

Groups including the NAACP, League of Women Voters and Common Cause said they would immediately file a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the new law makes it more difficult for people who are Black, Latino or disabled to vote.

“For far too long, Florida’s lawmakers and elected officials have created a vast array of hurdles that have made it more difficult for these and other voters to make their voices heard,” the groups said in their lawsuit, which they planned to file in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee.

“The League of Women Voters of Florida has fought SB 90 since its introduction, and we’re continuing our fight now,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color. It’s a despicable attempt by a one party ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot. It’s undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who announced earlier this week his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Governor after previously holding the office as a Republican, criticized DeSantis for preventing local media from entering the event.

When asked about the event, DeSantis told reporters and media outside the hotel, including NBC affiliate WPTV-TV, that "It was on national TV, it wasn't secret."

The bill allows for the continued use of drop boxes, but limits who can drop off a voter’s ballot while banning a box from being moved within 30 days of an election and restricting where they can be placed.

Republicans said the legislation, passed on a party-line vote, was needed to guard against fraud, after former President Donald Trump made unfounded claims that the presidential election was stolen from him. Democrats said the move is a partisan attempt to keep some voters from the ballot box.

Another focus is on voting by mail, including the use of drop boxes and so-called “ballot harvesting.” The latter is a practice Republicans have long sought to limit because of their worry that outside groups could tamper with the completed ballots they collect.

The measure was far different from some of the more severe measures proposed initially, including an outright ban on ballot drop boxes and a requirement to present identification when dropping off those ballots.

Still, Democrats had Georgia on their minds in decrying the rule changes that remained, including a prohibition against groups that distribute food and water to voters waiting to vote — although the prohibition would not apply to elections officials.

“We’ve never said that any nonprofit organization was trying to influence folks,” said Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican who helped secure the bill’s passage. “What we’re saying in the bill is that the intent of the no-solicitation zone in that language is to make sure that nobody is trying to influence the vote while they are in line.”

Georgia’s sweeping rewrite of its election rules has prompted alarm among Democrats and voting rights advocates in Florida and elsewhere, who object to new identification requirements that critics said would make once-routine changes to voter registration information more inconvenient.

“We had, as the Republican governor said, one of the best operated elections in the country, and yet today, the majority party through last minute maneuvers passed a voter suppression bill mimicking what took place in Georgia,” said Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani.

DeSantis had pushed Republican lawmakers to deliver the sweeping rewrites of rules on voting by mail and drop boxes, and to impose new layers of ID requirements for routine changes to a voter’s registration record.

However, the proposals signed into law did not include some of the more severe provisions initially put forward by some Republicans, including the outright banning of drop boxes and preventing the use of the U.S. Postal Service for returning completed ballots.

Spurred by concerns that the pandemic would keep voters from voting on Election Day last year, the Democratic Party urged people to vote early and through the mail.

The result: Florida Democrats outvoted Republicans by mail for the first time in years as a record 4.9 million Floridians voted by mail. Democrats cast 680,000 more mail ballots than Republicans did.

In the past, an application for a vote-by-mail ballot covered two general election cycles. The new law requires voters who want an absentee ballot to apply for one every cycle. Republicans had initially proposed making this retroactive, which would have immediately erased the Democratic advantage, but they backed off that move in the final version.

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