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Analysis

Florida Enacts Sweeping Voter Suppression Law

The law imposes new restrictions on mail voting, makes voter registration more difficult, and modifes rules for observers in ways that could disrupt election administration.

Last Updated: May 6, 2021
Published: April 30, 2021

On Thursday, Flor­ida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law S.B. 90, an omni­bus voter suppres­sion bill that will make it harder for Flor­idi­ans to vote.

It’s worth taking a step back to note that after last year’s general elec­tions, Flor­id­a’s offi­cials touted their elec­tion process as a great success. Never­the­less, Flor­id­a’s governor and state lawmakers advanced S.B. 90 under the pretext of address­ing unfoun­ded and unspe­cified concerns about elec­tion integ­rity.

The 48-page law makes a slew of changes to Flor­ida elec­tions, includ­ing making voter regis­tra­tion more diffi­cult, modi­fy­ing rules for observ­ers in ways that could disrupt elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion, and restrict­ing the abil­ity to provide snacks and water to voters wait­ing in line.

Most prom­in­ently, it takes aim at mail voting. For example, it requires voters to provide a state ID number or the last four digits of a social secur­ity number to obtain a mail ballot, provid­ing no altern­at­ive if a voter has neither iden­ti­fic­a­tion number. And it shortens the time period during which a voter can remain on the state’s vote-by-mail list (which entitles them to receive a mail ballot auto­mat­ic­ally).

S.B. 90 also makes it harder for voters to access secure ballot drop boxes. It requires drop boxes to be located either at a perman­ent county voting office or at an early voting loca­tion access­ible only during early voting hours. Regard­less of loca­tion, such boxes must be staffed by a county employee — which is likely to further restrict the hours of avail­ab­il­ity. Local elec­tion offi­cials will be subject to a $25,000 fine if they make drop boxes avail­able beyond the strict limits imposed by the bill.

Addi­tion­ally, S.B. 90 makes it more diffi­cult for voters to receive assist­ance with the request and return of mail ballots in a number of ways, includ­ing by crim­in­al­iz­ing any person who possesses two or more mail ballots other than the person’s own ballot and an imme­di­ate family member’s. And the law prohib­its local and state offi­cials from send­ing a mail ballot to voters who did not request one.

S.B. 90 also makes it harder for state and local offi­cials to solve prob­lems and protect voters. It prohib­its local and state elec­tion offi­cials from rely­ing on outside fund­ing for elec­tion-related expenses, even during emer­gen­cies. Last year, for example, nonpar­tisan phil­an­thropic grants were essen­tial to elec­tion offi­cials’ abil­ity to conduct safe elec­tions during the pandemic. And it also limits the abil­ity of state and county agen­cies to settle lawsuits related to elec­tions without inter­fer­ence by the legis­lature and attor­ney general.

But not all hope is lost. Many of the restrict­ive provi­sions in the law would be fixed, as they pertain to federal elec­tions, by the For the People Act — the federal demo­cracy reform bill that has already passed the House.

For example, if enacted, the For the People Act would:

  • Require that all voters receive absentee ballot applic­a­tions and allow voters to request that their applic­a­tion be applic­able to all future federal elec­tions, making reapplic­a­tion unne­ces­sary.
  • Allow voters to vote by mail without a voter ID number or other oner­ous ID require­ments.
  • Prohibit states from placing limits on how many absentee ballots a person can return on behalf of others.
  • Ensure that voters can drop off ballots in drop boxes at loca­tions and times that actu­ally work for them.

Notably, the For the People Act would also restore voting rights to every­one living in the community, regard­less of past convic­tions — recti­fy­ing the unjust pay-to-vote system that Flor­ida imposed in 2019.

Flor­ida is not the first state to pass restrict­ive voting legis­la­tion this session (just take a look at Geor­gia and Iowa), and it may not be the last (all eyes are now on Texas). As states stub­bornly advance their voter suppres­sion agen­das, the urgent need for the Senate to pass the For the People Act could not be clearer.