TALLAHASSEE – As a federal judge weighs the constitutionality of an elections law passed last year, the Florida House on Thursday started moving forward with a new proposal that includes adding steps for voting by mail and creating a state office to investigate alleged elections fraud.
The House Public Integrity & Elections Committee voted 12-6 to approve the proposal (PCB PIE 22-03) after a debate that echoed fights surrounding the 2021 law.
Democrats argued the bill would make it harder for people to cast ballots. Republicans argued it is needed to help curb fraud.
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But with the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee also approving the Senate version (SB 524) of the bill this week — and Gov. Ron DeSantis pushing for changes — it appears likely that the Republican-controlled Legislature will pass such an elections measure in the coming weeks.
“The question we need to ask is how much fraud are we willing to tolerate in an election?” Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican and former state GOP chairman, said during Thursday’s meeting. “For this state, representatives, zero. And we always need to strive to have the least amount of fraud as possible with the most access as possible in elections. That is the recipe for success.”
But Democrats said proposed changes in vote-by-mail ballots would cause confusion, particularly for people such as seniors. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, also said the bill ties back to former Republican President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden, though Trump won in Florida.
“I think we just have to call this what it is,” Thompson said. “It’s part of a nationwide, orchestrated effort to make it more difficult for people to vote because there was dissatisfaction with the outcome of the 2020 election. That’s what this is.”
The renewed legislative battles began playing out as Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker holds a trial in challenges to the 2021 law. Numerous voting-rights organizations filed lawsuits contending that the law, which focused heavily on changes to the vote-by-mail system, is unconstitutional. Walker, who is based in Tallahassee, began the trial Monday.
The new bills include adding requirements for people who vote by mail. Democrats outnumbered Republicans in mail-in voting during the 2020 elections.
Under the bills, people voting by mail would be required to write in a designated space the last four digits of their driver’s license numbers, state identification-card numbers or Social Security numbers. Supervisors would compare the numbers to registration information. Also, people who vote by mail would have to use an additional envelope.
Another part of the bills would create an “Office of Election Crimes and Security” in the Department of State. The office, in part, could initiate inquiries and conduct preliminary investigations into allegations of election-law violations.
In addition, the bills would require county elections supervisors to scour voter-registration rolls at least once a year, which would be more frequent than the currently required every other year. The bill also would set additional requirements for supervisors about issues such as confirming addresses.
Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, said Florida had a successful election in 2020, but that doesn’t mean it was “perfect.”
“We do have dirty rolls,” Byrd said. “Every state has dirty rolls. There are people on the rolls that should not be there, and we are adding provisions to ensure that our rolls are as accurate as possible.”
Rep. Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs, said everybody agrees they want “free and fair” elections. But he questioned moves such as a new office to conduct investigations.
“My concern is creating this whole new entity at taxpayer expense when the system seems to be working today,” Daley said.