A revised election reform package that has sparked controversy this legislative session was debated for hours in the Florida Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday, but the bill was ultimately temporarily postponed when time ran out on the five-hour meeting.
What You Need To Know
- The measure is strongly supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis, other GOP leaders
- A “wet signature” means a signature that a voter physically signed on paper with a pen or other writing utensil
- “It’s unfathomable what is happening with this bill,” said Orlando area Democrat
- More Politics headlines
The measure (SB 90) is sponsored by Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley in the Senate, and is strongly supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other top GOP leaders, despite proclamations by some of those same officials that Florida had an exemplary election last year.
While Baxley has now removed certain provisions from an earlier draft that pleased some voting rights-advocates, a provision that demands that voters have a “wet signature” on file with the supervisor of elections office provoked a strong reaction from two senators on the committee and one supervisor of election who spoke to the committee.
The bill says when it comes to verifying signatures when a voter goes to the polls, the supervisor of elections office shall only use a signature in the registration books or the precinct register from the preceding four years. If a “wet signature” is not available from the preceding four years, the verifier may use the most recent “wet signature” on record. A “wet signature” means a signature that a voter physically signed on paper with a pen or other writing utensil – and not one signed electronically, as is the case when a voter registers at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“It’s unfathomable what is happening with this bill,” said Orlando area Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy, speaking specifically about that provision.
St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley also commented that the ‘wet signature’ issue was a significant problem.
During a Zoom discussion about the House and Senate versions of the elections bill that was held on Tuesday evening, Dustin Chase, the deputy supervisor of elections in Pinellas County, said that these wet signatures could be an issue for “hundreds of thousands of voters in Pinellas,” and millions statewide.
Chase said that he himself had registered to vote at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles, which was done on an electronic pad.
“This complication will certainly create problem for the voters, but it will also create backlogs for canvassing boards who will then have to reach out to those voters to try to cure those mail ballots thru the mail ballot cure process,” Chase said, adding that it could create a situation where “we might not be able to certify elections under mandated legal deadlines because the process would just become so clogged.”
Baxley did make some changes to the bill that came before the Rules Committee which pleased some critics of the legislation.
The Senate version (SB 90) will now grandfather-in people who already have made vote-by-mail requests. Current Florida election law says that a voter’s request for a mail ballot is good for two general election cycles. Baxley’s bill says a voter must now make a request for a mail ballot every general election cycle. However, the new amendment introduced on Wednesday now allows those who requested a vote-by-mail ballot in 2020 to not have to request another ballot until 2024.
The amended Senate bill as proposed also removes a provision that would have removed all ballot drop boxes, which proved to be extremely popular in 2020. However, the Senate bill limits the hours of a drop box to the hours of early voting, and says that it shall only be placed in three specific sites: the supervisor of elections office, each branch of that office, and at early voting sites.
Those drop boxes also must be staffed by an employee of the SOE’s office or a law enforcement officer. If any drop box is accessible outside of early voting hours, the supervisor of elections is subject to a $25,000 fine.
The Senate bill also says that only immediate family members can return a ballot back to the supervisors of elections office. Chase says that can hurt disabled voters.
“They’re relying on their friend down the road, or down the hall from them, to take that ballot and they trust that person,” he said.
Patricia Brigham, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said her organization and/or others may resort to legally challenging the bill once it’s approved, depending on what the final product looks like.