FLORIDA — Following last month’s presidential election, where the dramatic increase in voting-by-mail became a major issue, state legislators throughout the country are now filing a large number of electoral reform bills.

What You Need To Know

  • A large number of electoral reform bills are being filed

  • There have been no immediate controversies to address in Florida following the 2020 presidential election

  • Voting by mail ballots increased in dramatic numbers this election season due to the pandemic

In Florida, however, the home of what has been derisively cited by critics of “electoral dysfunction,” officials are proud to note that unlike previous election cycles, there are no immediate controversies to address.

“We feel like most of our effort is in good order, and as you saw, Florida came in clear and clean,” said Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, the chair of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections.

“Everybody was comfortable that we had a reasonable functioning process,” he added.

“We believe that Florida put on a good election this past year,” adds Patti Brigham, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “I’m sure there were some glitches, but I think that our supervisors (of elections) and Secretary of State can feel proud about a good election in Florida.”

Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee credits her boss, Gov. Ron DeSantis, as being instrumental in paving the way for the state’s successful 2020 election cycle.

“The orderly, secure and safe voting process Florida voters experienced in 2020 is a credit to his leadership,” Lee said in a written statement issued this week by her office. “Building off of our successes this year, I look forward to advancing the Department’s mission even further in 2021.”

While DeSantis did oust Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher and accept the resignation of Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes in his first month of office in January 2019, it was the Legislature who did the heavy lifting when they passed an elections reform bill during the 2019 session that addressed some of the issues with vote-by-mail ballots that surfaced after the 2018 election cycle.

That bill (SB 7066) is best known though for including the controversial legislative enactment of Amendment 4, which was designed to automatically restore the voting eligibility of most felons who had completed their sentences.

The Legislature’s requirement that completion of sentence meant paying off all fines and fees survived court challenges and severely limited the effect of what organizers and supporters believed would occur after the constitutional amendment was passed in 2018.

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson does believe that the state needs to make major changes. The Orlando Democrat filed a major elections bill earlier this week. It’s similar to bills she has filed in previous sessions, but she’s hoping it gets more traction in the upcoming session.

“My approach is to expand the electorate and to allow more people to participate in our democracy,” she says.

Among the provisions of her bill include:

  • Require the Secretary of State to be elected rather appointed
  • Allow for same day registration and voting
  • Establish Election Day as a paid holiday
  • Allow a request for a vote-by-mail ballot to be valid until the request is canceled
  • Allow vote-by-mail ballots postmarked no later than the date of the election to be counted up until 10 days after the election
  • Require every supervisor of elections to enclose a postage paid envelope with each vote-by-mail ballot
  • Prohibit a polling place from being located in a gated community, unless the legal residence of every voter in the precinct is within that gated community

Brigham with the League of Women Voters of Florida said one of the top issues that she’d like to see the Secretary of State’s office address is the state’s voter registration website, which crashed in October, just hours before the registration deadline for the November election. 

“These have been ongoing problems,” she says, referring to previous issues with the elections website back in 2017. “If it doesn’t need a complete overhaul, it certainly needs a major fix so that these bugs don’t continue to plague voters in election years.”

Baxley says he’ll wait to propose any election-related legislation until he gets feedback from the supervisors of elections throughout the state, though he did when speaking with Spectrum Bay News 9 that he wants to check on Dominion Voting Systems “and see what part they played in Florida.”

Dominion Voting Systems is one of only two approved voting system vendors in Florida. The company has become the target of conspiracy theories by supporters of Donald Trump in the aftermath of the presidential election.