In 2024 Preview, New Florida Primary Laws Could Make Voting Difficult

In 2024 Preview, New Florida Primary Laws Could Make Voting Difficult

Floridians will vote in the primaries on Tuesday under new voting restrictions that a judge once said were designed “to target black voters,” the first federal election under the new law.

Voting advocates say the new rules make it harder to request and deliver absentee ballots and register voters, as well as make it easier to challenge votes once cast. But advocates say the new rules are necessary to combat voter fraud.

The primary will not only serve as a preview of the 2024 presidential election, but will also test ideas about who should be able to vote and how easily, in what has become one of the most electorally important states in the country.

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In 2024, in fact, Florida could have even more restrictions. Its new election laws require a committee to study rules similar to those in Texas, which led to a spike in rejected ballots in that state’s primaries earlier this year.

Operating under new rules, Texas eliminated more than 12% of mail-in ballots during the 2022 primaries, up from what the Texas Tribune determined was less than 2% in 2018.

“A lot of people have doubts about this new law,” said Amy Keith, program director for the good government group Common Cause Florida.

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Florida is part of a group of states that have adopted new election restrictions fueled by allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election, which has seen unprecedented levels of mail-in voting because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump won in Florida, but Republicans in the state government adopted an election law in 2021.

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US District Court Judge Mark Walker said in a March ruling that the law was designed “to target black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates.” But an appeals court said the law should apply to the Aug. 23 primaries while it is challenged in court.

Additionally, in 2022, Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed another set of electoral law changes. State Republicans hailed the changes as a victory for “electoral integrity,” and Governor Ron DeSantis called his state a “national leader” in electoral security.

Supporters of the right to vote, however, fear that the new laws will make it more difficult for voters. The League of Women Voters and other groups have sued the state to block enforcement of Senate Bill 90, the bill adopted in 2021.

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This bill requires, for the first time, voters who apply for a ballot by mail to include their Florida driver’s license or ID number or the last four digits of their social security number. It also forces voters to register more often for mail-in ballots.

But about 600,000 of Florida’s 14.3 million voter registrations don’t have those numbers for local election officials to cross-reference because voters used other forms of identification to prove their identity, said Dan Smith, a professor of political science at University of Florida who was an expert witness for groups challenging the law.

“For voters who have been on the lists for a long time, they may not have given that information,” Leon County Election Supervisor Mark Earley said, adding that many of Florida’s election supervisors have contacted voters who did not have the numbers in the list. file to get the information.

Once these voters receive their ballots, the new law also limits who can return a ballot to a voter to immediate family members, and an individual can only return up to two ballots that are not their own.

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Senate Bill 90 also requires that collection boxes – later renamed “secure polling stations” in Florida – be monitored by staff.

Election supervisors who violate the state’s deposit box laws could face a fine of $25,000.

“All these changes add up to restrict (voting),” said Cecile Scoon, president of the Florida League of Women Voters.

In April, Florida adopted another new election law, Senate Bill 524, which requires annual purges of voter lists, increases penalties for electoral crimes, and creates an “Office of Election Crimes and Security” to investigate allegations of alleged electoral fraud.

Scoon said he fears the group will act as election police and drive black voters away from the polls.

“The story is too raw and too real,” she said of the South’s history of preventing black people from voting.

A voter fills out his ballot on Aug. 8 at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in Miami.  Early voting in the Aug. 23 primary election began in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

A voter fills out his ballot on Aug. 8 at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in Miami. Early voting in the Aug. 23 primary election began in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

Bets for 2022

Voters will choose candidates in several high-profile races on Tuesday, including a Democratic challenger to DeSantis, who is believed to be laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign in two years.

Also at stake are a handful of open seats in Congress during the midterm after the departure of four full members and the addition of another representative after the 2020 Census.

On the Senate side, Democratic Representative Val Demings showed a comfortable lead in a recent Fox News poll over her primary opponents and is also ahead of Senator Marco Rubio, the current Republican. Rubio has no opposition in the GOP primaries.

Supervisor of Elections volunteers Fred Burgos, left, and Jessie Finlayson work to set up voting booths at the Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center on Aug. 5 in Tampa, Florida.  Early voting in Florida began Aug. 8 and ends on Sunday.

Supervisor of Elections volunteers Fred Burgos, left, and Jessie Finlayson work to set up voting booths at the Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center on Aug. 5 in Tampa, Florida. Early voting in Florida began Aug. 8 and ends on Sunday.

Florida has 29 electoral votes, which means it is among the richest prizes during the presidential election. Donald Trump’s victory there in 2016, for example, helped him win the White House.

2024 could bring more changes

Senate Bill 524 also sets the table for more potential changes in 2024 that could mirror those that led Texas election officials to reject thousands of mail-in ballots earlier this year.

The initial version of the bill required voters to provide an identification number on their postal ballots, but this was dropped. Instead, it called for a study, due by the state legislature until February 1, 2023, on requiring voters to include identification numbers when returning ballots by mail.

Earley, the chairman of the group that represents 67 local election supervisors, was opposed to the idea. The move would be expensive, Earley said, requiring extra envelopes or different envelopes that your equipment struggles to handle.

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He also worries about the “massive deprivation” he said happened in Texas.

During the March 1 Texas primary, voters for the first time had to include identification numbers on the flap of an envelope for their mail-in ballots. This led to a wave of rejected ballots, about 25,000 mailed ballots out of nearly 200,000 voted statewide. This represented a bounce rate of around 12.4%.

The rejections also affected voters from both parties, with 12.9% of Democratic primary mail-in ballots rejected compared to 11.8% of Republican mail-in ballots, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

“I don’t see any good way to make this work, frankly,” Earley said. “I’ve been very adamant about it.”

Contributing: The Associated Press and The Tallahassee Democrat

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attends a media event about the Florida Python Challenge 2022 on June 16, 2022 in Miami.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attends a media event about the Florida Python Challenge 2022 on June 16, 2022 in Miami.

This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: Midterms: Florida gets first test of new voting laws

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