Florida casts itself as elections model, but clashes remain

Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session, Friday, April 30, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session, Friday, April 30, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a state famed for election night fiascoes, Florida's handling of the November presidential vote was hailed as a sign it finally got things right. Even so, Florida Republicans have drafted new rules on voting by mail, drop boxes and ballot handling that are raising an outcry.

Even as Florida basks in the glow of its chaos-free Election Night, its GOP-controlled legislature — still unsettled by November's unproven claims of fraud — has responded by drafting voting changes that are raising alarm among Democrats and voter rights advocates.

Florida lawmakers passed an elections bill Thursday that may be far from a sweeping rewrite of voting rules. But the proposal is soon expected to become law and is helping to fuel a national debate over election integrity in some of the most crucial presidential battleground states.

It's one of a wave of GOP-backed election bills being debated around the country after former President Donald Trump stoked false claims that fraud led to his 2020 election defeat. Opponents say such measures would disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color, a complaint raised prominently last month in neighboring Georgia, where GOP-led post-election voting changes caused an uproar. Refrains of “don't Georgia my Florida” resonated among Democrats in the Sunshine State.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential contender up for reelection next year, said he would sign Florida's bill.

“We were proud of the election we ran, but obviously we want to stay ahead of the curve,” DeSantis said Friday. “I don’t know when they’re gonna send it to me but obviously it’s something I approve of and will sign it.”

Republicans described their proposal as “guardrails” against fraud, restricting when ballot drop boxes can be used and who can collect ballots — and how many. To protect against so called “ballot harvesting,” an electoral Good Samaritan can only collect and return the ballots of immediate family and no more than two from unrelated people.

It would add another layer of security by requiring identification, possibly a partial Social Security Number, to the usually routine process of changing voter registration information.