ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Five days after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a contentious election reform bill, more than a dozen people representing voting rights and civil rights groups spoke against the legislation at a press conference held at the Allendale Methodist Church in St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning.
What You Need To Know
- Critics of voting reform bill speak out against provisions
- Two lawsuits already have been filed in federal court challenging the election law’s constitutionality
- PREVIOUS: Florida governor signs controversial voting rules bill into law
- More Politics headlines
“All of these laws that are being created to resolve a problem. What problem is that?” asked event organizer Eliseo Santana, the president of the Pinellas County chapter of the Latin United League of American Citizens (LULAC). “Is it that too many of us are coming out to vote? Is that the problem?”
By “us,” Santana was referring to people of color.
Among the changes in the bill include new identification requirements for voters requesting vote-by-mail ballots. Florida has had a voter ID law on the books for years, but the new law now requires that those requesting vote-by-mail ballots must also submit a form of identification. That could be their driver’s license number, Florida identification card number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number.
“We have 28,000 residents in Pinellas County that do not have a driver’s license or an ID card, or even a Social Security number,” said Bill Jonson, the president of the North Pinellas chapter of the League of Women Voters in Florida. “The strategy behind it is that everybody in the county has an ID and so it’s an easy way to associate that identity with them. But we have these 28,000 people in the county that don’t. And so they’re not going to be able to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot. They’re not even going to be able to change their party registration. Or their address, the way that the bill is written right now.”
A spokesperson for the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections confirmed that there are 28,000 voters without ID in the county.
At a press conference last week hours after signing the legislation, DeSantis defended that provision of the bill.
“We’re also going to continue with Voter ID. Which is very, very important,” he said. “To make sure you are who you say you are.”
Another provision of the new law that critics disagree with is the provision that makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to possess or deliver more than two vote-by-mail ballots per election, other than a voter’s own ballot and the ballots of “immediate” family members.
“Some folks don’t even have the resources to get to the voting places,” says Ray Pena, the president of LULAC Council #7265. “So I can’t go to my neighbor and say ‘okay, I’ll take your ballot and I’ll deposit it for you.' That would now become criminalized. These folks don’t have the resources to get to the voting boxes. So, what are we to do?”
Dr. Linsey Grove, the president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the League of Women Voters of Florida, has issues with that measure as well as the reduction in the number of hours that ballot drop boxes can be made available to voters.
The law says drop boxes can only be used during early voting hours, other than boxes located at an office of a local election supervisor.
“People have a lot of transportation issues not just here in Pinellas, but across the state, so you know, putting up barriers for people to be able to drop ballots off for others, or to just use drop-boxes, really, really inhibits folks,” Grove said.
Domingo Garcia, the National President of LULAC, said last week that his organization intended to sue the state of Florida and ask the U.S. Dept. of Justice to investigate the GOP sponsors of the law for violation of civil and criminal laws.
Two lawsuits already have been filed in federal court challenging the election law’s constitutionality.
One was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Disability Rights Florida and Common Cause, which claims that the law disproportionately affects Black, Latino and voters with disabilities.
The other lawsuit was filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Black Voters Matter Fund, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and several individual Florida voters.
Other than depending on the courts, the last hope for voting rights advocates to reverse this and other election bills passed around the nation since last year’s election may reside in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats are hoping to get a massive election reform bill passed.
Senators debated the For the People Act today in a Senate Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
The bill would overhaul campaign finance laws, create automatic voter registration and expand access to early and absentee voting. It would also require states to change their registration system, limit states ability to remove people from the voter rolls and call on all states to form independent redistricting commissions.
While the bill passed in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House, its chances of getting through the Senate appear to be remote, considering that 10 Republicans would need to support it, in addition to all 50 Democrats.