Since the 2020 Election, the Republican-led Florida Legislature has passed dozens of changes to Florida’s voting laws. In 2021, Senate Bill 90 made it more difficult to obtain vote-by-mail ballots and placed limits on where and when election supervisors could make drop boxes available to voters. In 2022, the Legislature gave Gov. DeSantis a new “Office of Election Crimes and Security” to investigate alleged violations and irregularities. One of the changes was to establish harsher penalties against outside voter registration groups that fail to deliver voter registration applications in a timely fashion.
The Florida Senate filed its 2023 Election Bill on April 3, more than halfway through the legislative session. It passed its first committee the next day, on a party-line vote. While the bill is still making its way through the committee process and may still change, we wanted to update you on what is in this 98-page bill. We’ve broken the bill’s provisions into good, bad, and neutral categories. As you read on, you’ll gain an understanding of how these changes may impact the electoral process in the Sunshine State.
- The bill requires Supervisors of Elections (SOE) to conduct signature matching training, improving the accuracy and reliability of the verification process. (These trainings were previously offered but not mandatory).
- Third-party voter registration organizations are now required to provide a receipt to applicants, enhancing accountability and transparency.
- The bill increases the fines for altering voter registration forms without the voter’s consent (from $1,000 to $5,000), however, it does not address the Miami-Dade Republican Party scandal involving paid voter registration personnel pre-checking the party affiliation box.
- While there are current laws against stalking, harassing phone calls, and using personal identification to harass someone, there’s no criminal penalty for threatening or harassing election workers. This bill would make harassing or intimidating election workers a third-degree felony, ensuring a safe environment for those facilitating the electoral process.
- The bill creates new requirements for voter guides sent through direct mail. The bill requires voter guides to have a disclaimer and prohibits a person from representing that a voter guide is an official publication of a political party given permission. Producing fraudulent voter guides is now a first-degree misdemeanor punishable with fines, deterring the spread of misinformation during elections.
- While it is already a third-degree felony to willfully cast more than one ballot in an election, this bill clarifies it is not necessary to prove which ballot was cast first, and defines what it means to cast more than one ballot.
- The bill moves the Vote-by-Mail (VBM) request deadline back by one day. Voters must request a VBM ballot 11 days prior to any election.
- The bill reduces the time a third-party voter registration organization has to turn in forms to the SOE from 14 to 10 days. The language is unclear if it is 10 working days or 10 calendar days.
- The bill continues the chipping away at the voter-backed Amendment 4 that allowed non-violent former felons to cast ballots again. A new provision in the bill would make it more difficult to find out which felons should have their voting rights restored, concerned elections supervisors say. The bill would replace the statewide collection of new felony convictions, as well as information on felons whose fines and fees have been repaid, with a decentralized system that would force local elections offices to check in with their local court clerks every week.
- The bill prohibits third-party voter registration groups from providing voters with pre-filled voter registration forms, potentially hindering registration efforts. Organizations that violate this would face a $50 fine for each application.
- The state is pushing for the collection of more voter information, which may raise privacy concerns.
- Imposes hefty penalties for any organization turning in voter registration forms late, beyond the 10-day window, which may discourage such organizations from participating.
- Voter registration cards will now include a disclaimer that people are solely responsible for tracking and monitoring their voting eligibility and not the state of Florida.
- The bill gives new requirements for SOEs to purge voters from the rolls for undeliverable and returned mail and requires them to send removal notices to any voter who has not voted in the last two elections. Depending on mail deliverability as a means of identifying voting eligibility is clearly unreliable and could easily disenfranchise voters.
- The bill clarifies that the Office of Election Crimes and Security may make criminal referrals to specified government agencies, including the statewide prosecutor, who is part of the attorney general’s office, the election crimes unit, the state attorney, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
- If the SOE receives two VBM ballots in one envelope, both ballots must be discarded.
- Early voting: SOE’s now have another discretionary day to hold early voting if they choose not to use the discretionary early voting day on the 2nd day before Election Day.
The 2023 Florida Election Bill brings with it a mix of changes to the state’s electoral process. While some provisions aim to enhance transparency, voter protection, and accountability, others raise concerns about accessibility and privacy, and further muddy the process for returning citizens to determine their eligibility to vote. As Florida’s citizens and policymakers continue to debate the bill’s merits, it is crucial to stay informed on how these changes may impact the future of elections in the Sunshine State.