Miami-Dade County election officials, Democrats and voting rights groups have raised concerns about voter accessibility as Florida’s Republican legislature drafts laws that would usher in new voting restrictions.
One piece of legislation drawing criticism is Senate Bill 90, which includes provisions that call for “prohibiting the use of drop boxes for the return of vote-by-mail ballots” and “limiting the duration of requests for vote-by-mail ballots to all elections through the end of the calendar year of the next regularly scheduled general election.”
The bill mimics a highly controversial measure recently approved in Georgia that has drawn criticism from corporations — including Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola — and caused Major League Baseball to move the All-Star game out of Atlanta.
In Florida, more than a half-million voters in Miami-Dade County cast absentee ballots during the 2020 general election. Calls to representatives of the county’s Republican Party were not returned.
A Florida Division of Elections report shows that while most absentee ballots in Miami-Dade were cast by Democrats, just over a quarter of total absentee ballots in the county were by Republicans.
SB 90 would also force voters to submit vote-by-mail requests more often and make it a crime to ask a friend or caregiver to pick up or drop off a vote-by-mail ballot.
This is a “blatant effort to destroy the vote-by-mail system,” said Wayne Brody, voter protection chair for the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. The effort, he said, has drawn opposition from election officials statewide and would leave taxpayers picking up the tab for new regulations.
“It is loudly and consistently opposed by all of the state’s 67 supervisors of election, most of whom are Republicans, and editorial boards of every major news outlet,” said Brody. “Because there is no funding for it in the bill, county taxpayers will have to bear the multimillion-dollar cost of complying with these changes and letting voters know about them.”
Given that Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, Brody said the best thing constituents can do to prevent the bills from passing is to contact their Republican elected officials and encourage them to vote no on the bill, then use social media to encourage others to do the same.
Even as the bill weaves its way through various Florida Senate committees, opposition to sections one and three of SB 90 has been raised by Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Christina White.
In a memo to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava, White expressed concern about the impact of SB 90 on municipal elections this fall.
“Those whom this change will most immediately impact are the 107,000 voters in cities like Virginia Gardens, Homestead, Hialeah, Miami and Miami Beach who have already requested a VBM [Vote by Mail] ballot,” said White. “In fact, of the 107,000 voters impacted in municipal elections as outlined above, more than 46,000 of them are over the age 60.”
White said the SB 90’s July 1, 2021 vote-by-mail enrollment deadline is too short to notify voters adequately and will result in voters who “properly and timely requested a VBM have their request canceled.”
If passed, the implementation of new voting regulations proposed under SB 90 would clearly cost more. According to White, the price of mailing vote-by-mail renewal notices in 2020 required the elections department to spend $70,000. Currently, renewal notices are only sent to voters whose vote-by-mail requests have expired following the second general election.
Under SB 90, the mailing of renewal notices to include the existing 400,000 vote-by-mail voters would cost Miami-Dade County $405,000 in additional administrative costs.
White did, however, express support for section two of the bill, which would provide county canvassing boards additional time to begin canvassing of VBM, further systemizing a portion of an executive order issued by Gov. DeSantis before primary elections last August.
Among those sounding the alarm about SB 90 is Ancel Pratt III, director of operations for the Florida chapter of Emgage, a nonprofit foundation tailored around progressive issues such as voting rights that seek to politically empower and bridge the gap between politicians and members of the Muslim-American community.
Pratt said provisions in SB 90 would have a disproportionate impact on communities of color and prevent Floridians from having a say in how their state government should operate.
“I think one of the biggest concerns is making sure that people continue to have an option to make it as easy as possible, to be able to vote and not make it restrictive,” said Pratt. “These restrictions are geared toward making it difficult for people of color to vote, to make their voices heard and give their view about the direction we would like to see our state heading.”