Guest post by Josh Sproat
I’m a naturalized Floridian. I grew up in the cold and gray of Western Pennsylvania, and relocated to the Sunshine state to pursue career opportunities- and to escape the drudgery of northern winter. I remembered the confusion and chaos surrounding the 2000 election in Florida: the “butterfly ballots,” the “hanging chads,” the lawsuit between Al Gore and George W. Bush which ended up in the US Supreme Court, and so I was pleasantly surprised by the ease, convenience and security of voting in Florida, especially voting by mail. Vote-by-Mail in Florida is easy to apply for, and if you ask for a standing request for all elections, they send you your ballot with plenty of time for you to do your research and make an informed vote. And they give you options for how to turn it in: via the US Postal Service, or by taking it to a secure ballot dropbox — or you can decide to vote in person after all. Best of all: it’s entirely trackable. You can see if your ballot was received and counted online. Clearly, Florida had strengthened its voting system since 2000, to the point where it’s now considered one of the best in the country.
But now Florida lawmakers might revive a bill from last year’s session, SB 7061, that could add steps for the average voter and weaken our secure and convenient vote-by-mail process.
Around the country, recent elections have been clouded by unsupported, unproven allegations of voter fraud or partisan interference in counting totals. In my home state of Pennsylvania, election deniers filed multiple legal challenges over the 2020 election, with many citing a supposed lack of security around mailed votes. Rather than making elections in Pennsylvania more secure and strengthening our democracy, these attacks have made elections in Pennsylvania a mess. In many Pennsylvania elections since then, the final outcomes have been delayed because of a rule that prevents counting ballots received before Election Day and because baseless challenges slow the counting of votes and acceptance of results.
These lawsuits have purposely stoked controversy, which has raised doubts about how to complete ballots correctly, particularly among older voters. My 70-something parents have respiratory issues and voted by mail for the first time in 2020. It was difficult to convince them it was a secure method with so much misinformation circulating. It was frustrating to consider they might risk their health to have certainty that their votes would be counted without a challenge.
In response to the accusations, many states passed laws adding additional procedures or steps to the voting process and vote-by-mail rules. You might think that with all these additional procedures, we could expect to see a jump in ballots identified as fraudulent. Instead, rejection rates have remained approximately the same, with no evidence of additional fraud detected. In fact, where ballot rejection rates have increased, Texas is one example, election security officials say votes were disqualified due to failure to follow the new security requirements, not because of fraud. Could that be the real intent of all these new restrictions?
There is no evidence of widespread fraud in Florida, so following the Pennsylvania or Texas model would only serve to weaken our “gold-standard” vote-by-mail system, not enhance security. Election reporting in Florida is a model of efficiency, and with a major study examining election security due in February, Floridians will affirm what works and patch any weak spots. Florida legislators have many priorities that should come before casting doubt on the legitimacy of our own elections!
Take it from this Pennsylvania transplant: Florida gets voting right. Let’s make sure Tallahassee doesn’t mess with success and keeps vote-by-mail easy, secure, trackable, and accessible to all voters.