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Gov. DeSantis Eyes Changes to Florida’s Vote-by-Mail Laws


ORLANDO, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis laid out a new legislative proposal Friday to restrict voting by mail, which is a method most often used in the past by his own political party.

That is, until the 2020 presidential election, when, for the first time in years, more Florida Democrats voted by mail than Republicans


What You Need To Know

  •  Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed restricting voting by mail in Florida
  •  The move comes after more Democrats voted by mail than Republicans for the first time in years
  • DeSantis is pushing the changes despite no evidence of any major problems with the vote-by-mail system during the 2020 presidential election

The proposal also comes despite no major problems with the 2020 election in Florida.

“Last November, Florida held the smoothest, most successful election of any state in the country,” DeSantis said in a statement. “While we should celebrate this feat, we should not rest on our laurels. Today, we are taking actions to ensure Florida remains a leader on key issues regarding our electoral process, such as ballot integrity, public access to the election information, transparency of election reporting, and more.”

The governor’s office released a series of highlights the proposal would address, including several measures that are already required or limited by law

Ballot Integrity

  • Address the use of ballot drop boxes.
  • Address ballot harvesting so that no person may possess ballots other than their own and their immediate family.
  • No mass mailing of vote-by-mail ballots—only voters who request a ballot should receive a ballot.
  • Vote-by-mail requests must be made each election year.
  • Vote by mail ballot signatures must match the most recent signature on file.

“Ballot harvesting” is already considered a first degree misdemeanor crime in Florida.

Florida Statute 104.0616 states: “Any person who provides or offers to provide, and any person who accepts, a pecuniary or other benefits in exchange for distributing, ordering, requesting, collecting, delivering, or otherwise physically possessing more than two vote-by-mail ballots per election in addition to his or her own ballot or a ballot belonging to an immediate family member, except as provided in ss. 101.6105-101.694, commits a misdemeanor of the first degree…” 

Supervisors of Elections do not currently mass mail unrequested vote-by-mail ballots, also called “absentee ballots” in Florida. Current law also requires a voter’s signature on file with the state to match that on the returned mail ballot.

Florida is among 24 states and Washington D.C. that currently allow someone chosen by the voter to return their ballot. Twelve states define individuals who are eligible to return a voter’s ballot, such as a family member or caregiver. Alabama is the lone state that requires only the voter themselves to return their mail ballot.

“A vote-by-mail ballot refers to a ballot that you request and pick-up or have delivered to you without having to vote at the polls during early voting or on Election Day,” Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections has posted online. “A voter must first be registered to vote before he or she can request a vote-by-mail ballot. Unless otherwise specified, a request to receive a vote-by-mail ballot covers all elections through the end of the calendar year for the second ensuing regularly scheduled general election. If a vote-by-mail ballot is returned undeliverable, it will cancel a request for future elections and must be renewed.” 

Transparency in the Elections Process

  • Political parties and candidates cannot be shut out from observing the signature matching process.
  • Supervisors of Elections must post over-vote ballots to be considered by the canvassing board on their website before the canvassing board meets.
  • Prohibits counties from receiving grants from private third-party organizations for “get out the vote” initiatives.

Transparency in Elections Reporting

  • Requires real-time reporting of voter turnout data at the precinct level.
  • Supervisors of Elections must report how many ballots have been requested, how many have been received, and how many are left to be counted.

In Florida, candidates, campaigns, and political parties can assign “poll watchers” and volunteers to review every step of the election process, including observing a county’s election canvassing board to ensure a fair election.

Florida law also allows ballots and early votes to be counted as soon as they are received — often weeks before Election Day — thus allowing Supervisors of Elections to post preliminary turnout and vote data as soon as polls across the state are closed. Central Florida Supervisors of Elections also regularly post hourly and daily election data, including the differences in ballots requested and cast.

“The Florida Supervisors of Elections (FSE), an association of Florida’s 67 elections officials, has long served as a resource for legislators as they consider changes to Florida’s election laws,” FSE said in a statement. “While we have not yet seen the proposed legislation referenced in the press release issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis today, we look forward to sharing insight with legislators as to how any proposed legislation might impact the conduct of elections or the voter experience in Florida.”

DeSantis’ proposal was immediately met with criticism of being a political ploy.

“Please explain what you meant when you just said ‘something needs to be done’ about vote-by-mail drop boxes and they must be ‘reined in.’ Asking for millions of Republican and Democratic Florida voters who used them in 2020,” Orlando area State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) tweeted shortly after the governor’s press conference Friday.

Florida Republicans traditionally vote by mail more than Florida Democrats; that was until 2020.

In the most recent election (2020), Florida Democrats cast 683,487 more votes by mail than Florida Republicans:

  • 2020 Republican Votes by Mail: 1,506,223
  • 2020 Florida Democrat Votes by Mail: 2,189,710
  • 2020 No Party Affiliation Votes by Mail: 1,159,744

Comparatively, Florida Republicans cast 54,208 more vote by mail ballots than Florida Democrats in 2018; 58,244 more vote by mail ballots than Democrats in 2016, and 127,668 more vote by mail ballots than Democrats in 2014.

  • 2018 Republican Votes by Mail: 1,080,808
  • 2018 Florida Democrat Votes by Mail: 1,026,600
  • 2018 No Party Affiliation Votes by Mail: 516,390

 

  • 2016 Republican Votes by Mail: 1,108,053
  • 2016 Florida Democrat Votes by Mail: 1,049,809
  • 2016 No Party Affiliation Votes by Mail: 574,213

 

  • 2014 Republican Votes by Mail: 833,420
  • 2014 Florida Democrat Votes by Mail: 705,752
  • 2014 No Party Affiliation Votes by Mail: 338,648

The pandemic played a reversing role in the 2020 election. Traditionally Florida Republicans vote by mail more than Florida Democrats and Florida Democrats cast more early votes than Florida Republicans.

In 2020, with concerns and precautions due to the pandemic, Florida Republicans voted early more than Florida Democrats, and Florida Democrats cast more vote by mail ballots than Florida Republicans.



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