Gov. DeSantis signs Florida elections bill, closes event to local reporters

Southeast

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping elections bill into law on Thursday in an event closed to local news reporters.

The bill signing was held at the Hilton by the Palm Beach International Airport Thursday morning. Members of local news outlets were not allowed inside and the governor’s staff called the event a “Fox News exclusive.”

DeSantis said the new law puts Florida ahead of the curve in preventing any potential fraud.

“Right now I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country,” the governor said as he signed it. “We’re also banning ballot harvesting. We’re not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes and dump them in some drop box.”

The Florida legislature passed the election bill last week without a single Democratic vote, even as Florida Republicans have hailed their state as a model for conducting elections. This disconnect has confounded Democrats, voter rights groups and statewide elections officials who see no need for the changes.

The newly signed law restricts when ballot drop boxes can be used and who can collect ballots — and how many. To protect against so-called “ballot harvesting,” an electoral Good Samaritan can only collect and return the ballots of immediate family and no more than two from unrelated people. Under the new rules, drop boxes must be supervised and would only be available when elections offices and early voting sites are open.

It requires that a voter making changes to registration data provide an identifying number, possibly a driver’s license number or a partial Social Security Number.

The governor’s signature extends a no-influence zone to 150 feet around polling places. And elections officials would have to let candidates and other observers witness some key election night moments in the ballot-handling process. Any violations could prompt hefty fines.

The proposals signed into law did not include some of the more severe provisions initially put forward by some Republicans, including the outright banning of drop boxes and preventing the use of the U.S. Postal Service for returning completed ballots.

In the past, an application for a vote-by-mail ballot covered two general election cycles. The new law requires voters who want an absentee ballot to apply for one every cycle. Republicans had initially proposed making this retroactive, which would have immediately erased the Democratic advantage, but they backed off that move in the final version.

Republicans who support the legislation say it’s additional security for elections, but Democrats believe it complicates the state’s voting process.

Democrats and voter advocates have assailed the law as a blatant attempt to impede access to the polls so that Republicans might regain an advantage.

“The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color. It’s a despicable attempt by a one party ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot. It’s undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The league joined the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and others in assailing the new law in a federal lawsuit filed minutes after the signing.

A separate lawsuit by the NAACP and Common Cause alleges that the new law makes it more difficult for people who are Black, Latino or disabled to vote.

“For far too long, Florida’s lawmakers and elected officials have created a vast array of hurdles that have made it more difficult for these and other voters to make their voices heard,” the groups said in their lawsuit, which they filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, the state capital.

Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Florida governor who announced his challenge of DeSantis this week, tweeted, “This is the difference between @GovRonDeSantis and me. He locks out the public and caters to FOX News. When I was Governor, everyone was invited in — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. And when I’m Governor again, this will be a Florida for all.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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