Guest opinion: Lawmakers staying ahead of curve on voting access by going back to Jim Crow

This past election cycle in Florida, mail-in voting skyrocketed with nearly 5 million…

Guest opinion: Lawmakers staying ahead of curve on voting access by going back to Jim Crow 1

Despite a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, 77 percent of eligible Florida voters turned out to vote statewide in 2020—the highest turnout in 65 years.

Hard-working election officials could only meet that demand because of robust voting options, including accessible voting by mail and drop boxes that have been widely available, used, and uncontroversial for years.

Despite this, some lawmakers in Tallahassee, including state Senator Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) who chairs the pivotal Rules Committee, are hard at work making it harder for all of us to vote in future elections.

This past election cycle in Florida, mail-in voting skyrocketed with nearly 5 million people voting by mail, including 1.5 million Republicans, 2.2 million Democrats, and 1.1 million unaffiliated/independent voters.

However, following Georgia’s example, Senator Passidomo and her colleagues have proposed a slew of measures to severely restrict voting by mail and make it a crime to distribute water and food to voters waiting in line.

More: Lee, Collier officials decry proposed ban on ballot drop boxes, other voting restrictions

More: Guest opinion: Democracy at a tipping point

Let’s be clear: State officials and courts across Florida and the country confirmed that the 2020 election was secure. Governor Ron DeSantis himself proclaimed in February that Florida had “the most transparent and efficient election anywhere in the country.” And last month, the former president requested a mail-in ballot in Florida for the next election.

Gov. DeSantis now says that Florida needs to “stay ahead of the curve.”

Apparently, staying “ahead of the curve” means bringing Jim Crow into the modern era.

It’s a pattern.

In 2019, legislators in Tallahassee imposed a modern-day poll tax on re-enfranchised Floridians after Amendment 4 passed overwhelmingly the previous election.

This year legislators are discussing the imposition of new voting restrictions that will hurt everyone but disproportionately hurt voters of color, new citizens, voters with disabilities, and low-income voters after these same groups turned out in record numbers.

Two pieces of legislation — Senate Bill 90 and House Bill 7041 — would make it much harder to ever again see high vote-by-mail turnout. For one, the bills would restrict or outright eliminate drop boxes for ballots.

That’s absurd. Drop boxes are incredibly convenient for voters and enable people to dodge the uncertainties of postal office delivery. They are vital for voters of color, low-income communities, and individuals with disabilities, who generally face obstacles to in-person voting. [PW1] [GC2] 

Unsurprisingly, a whopping 70 percent of Florida voters support the use of drop boxes, according to a 2020 poll from the State Innovation Exchange.

And 1.4 million voters used drop boxes last year.

Both bills would also force Floridians to apply for mail-in ballots every election cycle, instead of every two, as the current system allows. This would make the election process even more confusing and time-consuming for voters.

One of the bills would severely restrict or stop anyone other than immediate family members from picking up ballots to submit them. Under current law, voters can designate anyone to pick up their ballot – something the former president did while in office.

Alan Hays, the Lake County supervisor of elections and a former Republican state legislator, recently laid out concerns asking legislators simply, “Do you have any idea how many people like my dear mother don’t have family members living nearby?”

As a report about 2020’s election released by the SPLC makes clear, lawmakers should be taking steps to encourage turnout and revitalize our democracy, not diminish it. That means expanding access to mail-in ballots, creating more drop boxes, and expanding early voting.


If either SB 90 or HB 7041 pass, Florida will have ignored all the merited praise about its 2020 election administration and willingly replaced Georgia as the anti-voter capital of the Deep South.

Carrie Boyd is Policy Counsel for Florida for the SPLC Action Fund.

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