By John Haughey | The Center Square
A key Senate panel Wednesday amended a controversial bill imposing a range of restrictions on the state’s vote-by-mail (VBM) laws but did not vote on the measure after an exhaustive debate.
The Senate Rules Committee ran out of time before it could issue a verdict on Senate Bill 90 during a fiery marathon meeting that began with an hours’-long fracas over a proposed bill preempting local governments from regulating ports in areas “of critical state concern.”
Committee chair Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, concluded the meeting without calling for a vote on SB 90, saying the panel could take up the measure in its Friday meeting or next week. The bill was not on panel’s Friday agenda as of Thursday afternoon.
SB 90, filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, originally banned all ballot drop boxes but in a series of amendments filed Monday and approved Wednesday, that provision was deleted.
The amendments bring SB 90 more in line with House Bill 7041, filed by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, which has one hearing before the House State Affairs Committee before reaching that chamber’s floor.
Both bills have drawn widespread criticism as being among the more restrictive measures being introduced in state legislatures by Republicans across the nation.
Similar bills adopted in Georgia prompted Major League Baseball to move the 2021 All Star Game from Atlanta to Denver and unleashed a torrent of backlash from corporations and voting rights advocates.
SB 90/HB 7041 is opposed by a wide range of state and national organizations, including 66 of Florida’s 67 county election supervisors, religious leaders, veterans’ groups such as Florida Veterans for Common Sense and a voting rights group led by NBA superstar LeBron James who Monday urged Floridians to contact their lawmakers and demand they reject.
And while the amendments adopted Tuesday make SB 90 less restrictive, they also encoded a new method of verifying mail-in ballot signatures and make it more difficult for voters to change party registrations.
Under SB 90, Floridians would have to produce more information – a driver’s license number, state-issued ID number, the last four digits of Social Security numbers – when registering to vote or requesting a vote-by-mail ballot.
The bill would require elections supervisors to compare signatures on ballot envelopes to electronic signatures — such as ones signed on an electronic pad at a DMV office – no older than four years old.
If the supervisor doesn’t have an electronic signature newer than four years old on file, supervisors could use the most recent paper, or “wet,” signature on file. If there isn’t any “wet” signature on file, the ballot must be rejected.
Without such verifications, “Otherwise, you could register robots, I guess,” Baxley said.
Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, said the requirement is nothing more than a voter suppression tactic.
“We are literally going to wipe millions of people off the rolls by requiring this,” Bracy said.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, envisioned “millions” of Floridians cramming county elections supervisors’ offices before elections to update signatures and potentially endanger canvassing boards by allowing candidates and parties to nominate observers as board members review ballots, leading to 50 or 70 people looming over their shoulders.
“It’s one of the significant flaws in this piece of legislation,” Brandes said.
Baxley said supervisors need to be creative. “I’m challenging them to figure out how to do this,” he said.
“Creativity’s great,” Leon County Elections Supervisor Mark Earley said, “but we don’t have the funding to buy new buildings to have enough space to do this, or the technology to be able to set this up so that it could be viewed remotely. (SB 90) poses very grave security risks” for poll workers and canvassing boards.