Florida's Senate advanced a restrictive voting bill Monday that includes limits on casting ballots by mail and drop boxes over the concerns of Democrats and voting-rights activists, who say the bill would create significant new barriers to voters.
The Republican-led Senate approved the bill in a largely party-line vote, with one Republican joining all Democrats to vote against it after weeks of contentious debate.
The legislation would limit where drop boxes can be placed and would require those casting ballots that way to show identification to an election official first. It also makes a smattering of other changes to the state’s voting laws, including requiring voters to apply for mail-in-ballots more frequently, restricting who can drop off a voter's ballot at a dropbox, and preventing anyone except official election workers from handing out food and water to those waiting in line to vote.
The House has been working on a similar, but not identical, legislation. That measure, for example, was stripped of language limiting the handing out of food and water to voters, although the bill's sponsor suggested it could still bar the practice if the people doing so are trying to influence a voter’s decision.
Florida's push comes amid a broad Republican effort in statehouses across the country to place new restrictions on voting, especially by mail, months after former President Donald Trump and his allies made unfounded claims that widespread fraud cost him the election.
During the debate before the bill passed, Democrats blasted their Republican colleagues for following suit, calling the measure the fruit of Trump's "big lie" that he won the 2020 election and "Georgia light," a reference to the restrictive voting measures passed in their neighboring state last month.
“This bill is just a vindictive way of trying to punish people for an election that some people just didn’t like at the national level," Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson said. "Not one indication of fraud, just a lot of folks decided that they were fed up and they wanted to vote."
Gibson and other Black senators called the new restrictions an extension of the legacy of the Jim Crow South, with many taking to the floor to tell stories of the historic voter suppression of primarily Black Americans.
"Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they aren’t out to get you. When I look at this bill, I have to do it with an eye toward the history of Florida," state Sen. Perry Thurston Jr. said, calling the measure "the modern-day version of voter suppression" in the state.
Florida Republicans have repeatedly celebrated their state’s administrative successes during the 2020 election, which they say included challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, they have framed the legislation as a way to learn lessons from last cycle and shore up the state’s voting laws.
"The goal for everyone is to make it as easy as possible to vote and as hard as possible to cheat," Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters said. "And when I hear my colleagues standing up and talk about restrictions and suppressing voters, it’s disappointing because this does nothing to suppress the vote, it does nothing to restrict the vote."
Republican state Sen. Travis Hutson argued that through in-person voting, voting by mail, early voting and drop boxes, Florida provides citizens ample ways to cast their vote.
"Four ways to vote in Florida with plenty of time," Hutson said. "The only excuse you have is that you are lazy if you do not vote."