The Florida legislature has passed tight new voting restrictions, placing the crucial swing state at the forefront of a nationwide wave of Republican efforts to suppress turnout on the back of Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
The bill, which closely mirrors similar Republican ploys in Georgia and Michigan, is likely to make it more difficult for millions of voters to have their democratic say. The new barriers to voting are expected to particularly impact minority communities.
The legislation introduces a plethora of new hurdles to voting by mail in the wake of the surge in mail-in voting by Democrats in the 2020 election. It also imposes restrictions on providing water to citizens standing in line to cast their ballot.
Black lawmakers expressed dismay when the bill passed on Thursday night. The Democratic representative Angela Nixon said she was “distraught and disheartened”, the Washington Post reported.
“You are making policies that are detrimental to our communities,” she told her Republican peers.
Fellow Democratic lawmaker Anna Eskamani told the Miami Herald: “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.”
As Eskamani highlighted, the move by Florida Republicans to clamp down on voting is especially awkward, even by the contorted logic that the Republican party has deployed in states across the country. The restrictions were passed in the name of “voter integrity”, following the former president’s false claim that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Yet in Florida, Republicans boasted – and continue to boast – about how well the presidential race was conducted. Trump won the traditional battleground state, which commands a critical 29 electoral college votes, by about 3%.
Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, was caught by his own contradictory rationale when he told Fox News on Thursday night that he would now sign the bill into law. “So we think we led the nation,” he said, referring to how the 2020 ballot went in his state, “but we’re trying to stay ahead of the curve to make sure that these elections are run well.”
Florida’s attack on voting rights forms part of a staggering assault by Republicans on the heart of American democracy. According to the Brennan Center, which monitors voting rights, about 361 bills containing restrictive provisions have been introduced in what its analysts call “a backlash to 2020’s historic voter turnout, under the pretense of responding to baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud”.
The Florida bill focuses especially on voting by mail. It targets the use of drop boxes in which mail ballots can be deposited, and forces voters to reapply for mail ballots every two years rather than four – a move which critics fear will sow confusion and suppress turnout.
The attack on mail-in voting is ironic given that the state has a long track-record of using that electoral method without any notable challenges. In several previous cycles, mail-in voting was used predominantly by Republican voters with no objections raised.
But in 2020 there was a steep increase in Democratic voters who turned to casting their ballots by mail as a safety measure in the pandemic. Out of a total of more than 11m Floridians who voted in the presidential race, almost 5m did so by mail – about 44%.
Suddenly, the practice of voting by mail has become a threat to voter integrity, according to the Republican party.