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Florida governor signs voting restrictions into law, making the state the latest to add hurdles to voting

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during a news conference at West Miami Middle School in Miami on Tuesday.MATIAS J. OCNER/Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday enthusiastically embraced former president Donald Trump’s demand for tougher election laws, signing into law a slew of new voting restrictions in a staged live broadcast despite previously touting how smoothly his state’s elections ran last fall.

DeSantis, a Republican, hailed the measure as necessary to shore up public faith in elections, but critics accused him of trying to make it harder to vote, particularly for people of color.

His signing of the bill, which he delivered live on the Fox News morning program “Fox & Friends,” makes Florida the latest GOP-controlled state to impose new voting hurdles, following Georgia, Montana, and Iowa. The Texas House took up a similar measure later Thursday, and other states including Arizona, Michigan and Ohio are considering their own bills.


DeSantis offered a string of justifications for the law, claiming it would prevent ballot “harvesting” and the stuffing of ballots into unmonitored drop boxes - though such practices were already prohibited in the state and there is no evidence they occurred last year.

“We’re not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes and dump them in some drop box,” the governor said.

DeSantis’s vigorous support for the new law, which he arranged to showcase exclusively on Fox News’s signature morning show, is the latest example of the GOP’s rush to align with Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was marred by fraud. Even as some Republicans have privately lamented Trump’s false statements that Joe Biden did not win the election, few have been willing to say so publicly - and those who have are facing swift blowback.

In Washington, GOP leaders are moving to oust Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the House Republican Conference chair, from her leadership post after she said that Trump’s false election claims incited the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and that lies about the 2020 vote are “poisoning our democratic system.” In Utah last weekend, Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican, was booed at a state party convention for his similar remarks rebuking the former president.


Like similar bills that Republicans are pushing in dozens of state legislatures nationwide, the Florida measure adds hurdles to voting by mail, restricts the use of drop boxes and prohibits any actions that could influence those standing in line to vote, which voting rights advocates said is likely to discourage nonpartisan groups from offering food or water to voters as they wait.

Democrats and voting rights advocates accused Republicans of trying to make it harder for some Floridians to cast ballots - and to appease constituents who believe Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen.

“This blatant voter suppression is Jim Crow 2.0 and will make it harder for voters - from low-income rural white communities to the elderly to communities of color - to have their voices heard,” state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, who represents parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, said in a statement. “It is clearly part of a coordinated, targeted assault strategy as Florida joins a long list of states pursuing similar disenfranchisement efforts in recent months.”

The Florida measure was immediately challenged in federal court. Voting rights advocates including the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Black Voters Matter Fund, Common Cause and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed two lawsuits arguing that the law is unconstitutional.


Both suits maintain that the law creates undue and uneven barriers to voting.

“Senate Bill 90 does not impede all of Florida’s voters equally,” the League of Women Voters and other groups argued in their suit. “It is crafted to and will operate to make it more difficult for certain types of voters to participate in the state’s elections, including those voters who generally wish to vote with a vote-by-mail ballot and voters who have historically had to overcome substantial hurdles to reach the ballot box, such as Florida’s senior voters, youngest voters, and minority voters.”

Critics said the new law curtails poll access in ways that will intimidate, confuse and otherwise make it harder for people to vote by mail, which is popular in Florida. In November, more than 4.8 million Floridians - more than 40% of the fall electorate - cast mail ballots, including many Republicans.

The new constraints on voting by mail could produce longer lines during early in-person voting and Election Day voting, critics said.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday that “Florida is moving in the wrong direction.”

“The 2020 election was one of the most secure elections in American history,” she said. “There’s no legitimate reason to change the rules right now to make it harder to vote.”

DeSantis argued that the law will bolster election security.

“Your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy,” he said on Fox News.


The Florida governor scheduled the bill signing Thursday at the Airport Hilton in West Palm Beach, a short drive from Trump’s home at his Mar-a-Lago Club. The event was dubbed a rally “for the best governor in the USA.”

The atmosphere was more akin to a campaign event than a bill signing. Pickup trucks bedecked with Trump and DeSantis flags were given special parking spots in front of the ballroom where the signing took place. Volunteers sported Trump ball caps and T-shirts. At one point, the crowd could be heard chanting, “Four more years!”

Some attendees said they found out about the event through the Palm Beach County-based Club 45 USA, which describes itself as “a non-profit corporation formed to support the agenda of our 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.”

Officials with the group did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

DeSantis’s staff barred the news media, including a reporter for The Washington Post, from attending the bill signing, calling it an exclusive for Fox News, a network Trump watches regularly. A reporter for the local CBS affiliate tweeted that the station was supposed to provide pool footage for the event and broadcast it to news outlets throughout the state and country but was blocked along with other journalists.

“This is DeSantis bringing home the little dead mouse in his teeth for Papa Trump to see,” said Joy Howell, a spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Democratic Party who observed the signing ceremony by looking through windows from outside the hotel ballroom. “That’s why he’s doing it here, because this is where Papa Trump lives.”


DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said she did not know whether Trump had been invited to the event.

She did not answer directly when asked whether the event was an official bill signing or a campaign event. “It’s a public event, there’s a bunch of people from the area, it’s a bill signing, but it’s exclusively Fox,” she told The Post, adding, “It was a decision between Fox and us.”

A Fox News spokesman said in a statement to The Post that “neither the network, nor the show, requested or mandated the event be exclusive.”

When he left, DeSantis was mobbed by fans seeking selfies. One supporter, Mary Korff, who attended with her husband, Joseph, said: “We would love a Trump-DeSantis ticket.”

The two are frequent guests at Mar-a-Lago, they said. “It’s the center of the universe for Republicans, Mar-a-Lago,” Joseph Korff said. “Every Republican who wants to be elected wants to pass through Mar-a-Lago to speak to President Trump. He’s in charge of the Republican Party.”

Retired teacher Cynthia Drum, who also attended the event, said she votes by mail and that it is very easy. But she said she supports the changes to voting that DeSantis signed into law Thursday “because of societal changes.”

“We see what’s going on in other states, ballot harvesting, drop-off ballots at all hours of the day and night and no protection, no surveillance,” she said.

No evidence has surfaced that large numbers of ballots in the 2020 election were mishandled by third parties or dumped.

Republicans pushed through the new law despite bipartisan acclaim for Florida’s administration of the November 2020 election. Trump won the state by more than three percentage points.

In February, DeSantis hailed it as “the most transparent and efficient election anywhere in the country” - but in the same speech, he said more restrictions on mail voting were needed to “stay ahead of the curve.”

The new law makes it harder to use drop boxes to deposit mail ballots, a voting method that was widely embraced last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It prohibits mobile drop boxes, and it requires local election supervisors to staff all drop boxes and to allow ballots to be placed in them only during early-voting hours. Supervisors who leave a drop box accessible outside those hours are subject to a civil penalty of $25,000. The state’s association of county election supervisors opposes the law.

The law also limits who may turn in a voter’s ballot, allowing only certain family members to do so or limiting people to turning in the ballots of only two people who are not family members. It also requires voters to reapply for mail ballots every two-year election cycle, rather than every two cycles - or four years - as the previous law allowed.

“We’ve had absentee voting in Florida for a long time,” DeSantis said in his signing remarks. “You request a ballot, you get it and then you mail it in. But to just indiscriminately send them out is not a recipe for success.”

In fact, Florida already required that voters request mail ballots. And the previous law removed people from the request list if mail was returned as undeliverable - a safeguard that already prevented ballots from being sent to the wrong location, voting rights advocates said.

The governor hailed another provision that restricts private donations to elections offices to help them administer voting, calling such donations “Zuckerbucks” after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who along with his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave millions through a nonprofit group to local governments for that purpose in 2020.

Florida’s new law comes after Georgia Republicans in March passed an extensive overhaul of that state’s voting rules, a measure that quickly emerged as a flash point in a state with a long history of disenfranchising voters of color.

In Texas, lawmakers on Thursday evening heatedly debated a House bill that would ban types of expanded voting access put in place during the pandemic and implement other restrictions. State Rep. Jessica González, a Democrat, grilled Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Republican, a sponsor of the bill, on why the measure was needed. “If it’s not broken, what are we trying to fix?” she said.

“We don’t need to wait for bad things to happen to try to secure our elections,” Cain said.

The debate about the new restrictions in Florida was marked by sharp criticism from Black legislators there, who rose one after another during debate in the House and the Senate last week to condemn the legislation.

“You are making policies that are detrimental to our communities,” state Rep. Angela Nixon, a Democrat, said, describing herself as “distraught and disheartened.”

They and other critics said the legislation would make voting particularly difficult for people of color, who more often struggle with transportation issues and work nonstandard hours in the service sector in Florida’s tourism-dependent economy, relying more heavily on after-hours drop boxes.

The additional barriers make it hard not to conclude that the law is intended to suppress the vote, they said - an ugly reminder of Florida’s embrace of Jim Crow laws in the 20th century.

Although much of the criticism of Senate Bill 90 comes from voting rights advocates who say it will disproportionately affect communities of color, some Republicans worry that it will make it more difficult for their voters to cast ballots, too - particularly the millions of Floridians who have voted by mail for many years.

Despite Trump’s nonstop attacks on voting by mail, 34.5% of Republicans cast their ballots through that method last fall, up from 29.9% four years earlier, according to data compiled by University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith.

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Rozsa reported from West Palm Beach. The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr and Hannah Knowles in Washington contributed to this report.