and Video Courtesy of Channel 4 CBS NEWS
By CBSMiam.COM Team
Published February 13, 2021
TALLAHASSEE – With backing from Gov. Ron DeSantis, a
Florida Senate committee on Wednesday approved a wide-ranging proposal
to revamp vote-by-mail laws, including banning the use of drop boxes and
taking aim at a practice known as “ballot harvesting.”
The bill comes amid efforts in various parts of the
country by Republicans to place new restrictions on voting by mail,
after former President Donald Trump attacked the process during his
unsuccessful re-election campaign last year. It also comes after Florida
Democrats used vote-by-mail ballots heavily in November.
While Florida had relatively few problems in the November elections,
Senate bill sponsor Dennis Baxley said the proposed vote-by-mail changes
are designed to ensure the security of future elections.
“I am all about staying ahead of whatever problems could develop,”
Baxley said before the GOP-controlled Senate Governmental Oversight and
Accountability Committee voted 4-2 along party lines to approve the bill
Wednesday. “So, it’s not that there was a debacle, and we have to fix
it. Do we have to wait for a debacle? Why can’t we take something that
is working well and put guardrails on it and keep it safe?”
But Democrats and county elections supervisors opposed the bill,
expressing concerns about issues such as the proposed ban on drop boxes,
which many voters used in 2020 instead of placing ballots in the mail.
Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley, who is the vice
president of a statewide supervisors association, said the bill could
create a return to past problems of long lines and confusion at polling
“I have heard of no supervisors who are in support of this bill,” Earley
said. “There are a few good measures, but on balance, we are against
this bill vehemently.”
Other critics went further and said the bill was an attempt at voter
“Adding roadblocks to mail ballots and banning ballot drop boxes will
confuse and disenfranchise millions of voters,” Agriculture Commissioner
Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, said in a prepared
statement after the vote. “It’s clear that Florida Republicans’ latest
voter suppression scheme, which is opposed by county election officials,
is designed to silence the collective voices of millions.”
But Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who doubles as chairman of
the Republican Party of Florida, disputed that the bill would
disenfranchise voters or create confusion.
“This is all about ensuring that we have the confidence of the voters,
making sure it is as easy as possible to vote and as hard as possible to
cheat,” said Gruters, who is a member of the Senate committee that
approved the measure. “That has got to be the goal.”
The Senate vote came less than a month after DeSantis, a close political
ally of Trump, held a news conference in Palm Beach County to call for
changes in the vote-by-mail process. Senate President Wilton Simpson and
House Speaker Chris Sprowls immediately supported DeSantis on the issue.
Baxley’s bill initially was limited to making a change that would
require voters to request vote-by-mail ballots more frequently. But the
proposal was dramatically expanded during Wednesday’s meeting to include
In addition to banning the use of drop boxes for voters to drop off
ballots, the bill would only allow “immediate” family members to collect
and deliver ballots for voters. That would seek to prevent “ballot
harvesting,” which involves other people being able to collect and
Baxley, who chairs the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, said the
change would help with election security.
“By limiting that, you are preserving a secure pattern and not opening
that chain of transfer (of ballots) to mischief or mayhem or mishap,”
But Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays, a former Republican
senator, said many people don’t have immediate family members who could
help with vote-by-mail ballots. He said current law allows voters to
designate in writing other people who can pick up ballots.
“Do you have any idea how many people, like my dear mother, don’t have
immediate family members living nearby, thus they won’t be able to have
their ballot picked up for them,” Hays said.
Among other things, the bill would require voters to resubmit requests
for vote-by-mail ballots for the 2022 elections, even if they have
already submitted a request under current law. Also, the bill would
prevent supervisors from providing vote-by-mail ballots unless requests
are made and require voters’ signatures to match the most-recent
signatures on file.
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing many people to be reluctant to go to
the polls, more than 4.85 million Floridians cast votes by mail in the
November election, according to state figures. That included about 2.19
million registered Democrats and 1.5 million registered Republicans,
with the rest of the ballots cast by unaffiliated or third-party voters.