Florida Republicans should stand up for voter freedom
Freedom is built into Florida’s very foundation. The preamble to Florida’s Constitution begins by thanking God for liberty, and the document protects it as a “basic right” immediately thereafter. This focus on freedom is perhaps one reason why thousands of Americans relocate to Florida each year.
Channeling this ethos, the Florida Republican Party has elevated both “freedom” and “liberty” as core principles of the party. Unfortunately, some Republicans in Tallahassee are not living up to the party’s ideals and instead are looking to curtail individual liberty when it comes to voting, specifically voting by mail.
There are plenty of principled reasons to oppose such a move, but there are purely practical considerations as well. In fact, Florida Republicans may even be harming their own interests if they advance this legislation.
The Florida Division of Elections reported that more than 4.8 million Floridians voted by mail this past November. Despite his early objections, former President Donald Trump ultimately encouraged voters in Florida to vote by mail. In the final vote count, over 1.5 million Republicans cast ballots by mail in 2020, representing roughly one-quarter of Trump’s vote total and delivering the Sunshine State for the GOP.
That so many Republicans are choosing to vote by mail should not surprise anyone tracking recent election data. In the 2018 election, over 1 million Republicans voted by mail, surpassing the number of mail-in ballots returned by Democrats. With the party’s recent success with mail-in voting, what is surprising is that Republicans in the statehouse are advancing legislation this session aimed at making the practice more difficult.
Senate Bill 90, brought forward by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, makes dramatic changes to state law that would add unjustified hassle for Republicans and Democrats alike who choose to vote by mail.
Under current law, voters must re-apply for an absentee ballot after two general elections (that is, every three or four years). Under the bill, however, voters would need to re-apply for an absentee ballot annually. Not only would this change be annoying for all absentee voters in the state, it would create a hardship on the disabled, ill and elderly voters who rely upon mail-in voting the most.
Legislative Republicans are moving the wrong way on this issue and should be looking to extend the duration of absentee status — or just eliminate the requirement to re-apply altogether.
Furthermore, SB 90 needlessly bans ballot drop boxes. Drop boxes are a safe and secure option for ballot delivery, and prohibiting drop boxes — much like requiring annual absentee applications — is an annoyance for Florida voters looking to exercise their rights.
Although supporters of the bill argue the changes make elections more secure, neither of these changes improve election security. Requiring annual absentee applications does not clean up voter rolls of improper registrations, nor does it reduce opportunities for fraud. As for drop boxes, Republican secretaries of state in Washington and Kentucky actively encourage voters to use them precisely because they are secure. Ultimately, these provisions would neither provide an electoral windfall nor increase election security.
In fairness, the sponsors of SB 90 deserve praise for some of the bill’s provisions. Increasing the time period for canvassing ballots before Election Day and keeping partisan identifiers off of ballot materials would improve election administration and ensure privacy for absentee voters. This bill would benefit all Floridians if lawmakers simply removed the sections that reduce voter choice. Until that time, SB 90 strikes a blow at liberty by restricting options for millions of Florida voters.
Republicans in Tallahassee have a choice in front of them: Let voters exercise their freedom when choosing how to vote, or place pointless restrictions on democracy. The choice should be easy. They should stand up for freedom.