Once again, the Florida legislature passed another election bill this year. That makes six years in a row 😓 the GOP has filed and passed a major overhaul of Florida’s election system. This bill has been touted as a way to improve election security, but upon closer examination, it still does not address Florida’s voter database problem. First, we will cover what the bill does change and then we will discuss our data concerns and the serious gaps that remain.
The Senate bill, which we reported on a few weeks ago was released on 3/30 and received quite a bit of pushback from the county Supervisor’s of Elections, along with other stakeholders. The bill sponsor went back to the drawing board and the House bill was released (4/19) approximately two weeks later. The House bill removed much of the troublesome language and we have a better version because of it.
We should celebrate a win!
Opportunity For All Floridians members sent 3555 emails to state legislators in support of retaining our current Vote-By-Mail system!! There were some minor changes to the request deadline for a Vote-By-Mail ballot and also more restrictions on ordering Vote-By-Mail ballots during the early voting period. We should count these minor changes as a win considering legislators were being courted by many groups that were advocating for eliminating the entire Vote-By-Mail program and also advocating for requiring voters to include personal identification information, like the last four digits of your social security number, on Vote-By-Mail envelopes.
Now that we have celebrated a win, we have broken the final bill down 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 who facilitate 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 moved the Vote-by-Mail (VBM) request deadline back two days. Voters must request a VBM ballot 12 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 paid, 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 with a maximum annual penalty of $250,000.
- 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. We are worried that depending on mail deliverability as a means of identifying voting eligibility is flawed and could easily disenfranchise voters.
- If the SOE receives two VBM ballots in one envelope, both ballots must be discarded. Some counties in Florida require voters to pay the return postage for mail ballots. To save money, voters will combine multiple ballots in one envelope. Our Solution: We would like to see the state mandate that all counties provide pre-paid postage envelopes to solve the issue.
At the beginning of the analysis, I stated that the election bills filed over the last six years have still not addressed Florida’s voter database problem. In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly agreed that Floridians convicted of non-violent felonies, who served their time and paid their restitution should be eligible to vote. That would require the state to keep track of court fines, fees, and case disposition. Florida urgently needs to invest in more sophisticated, and comprehensive justice system databases. The state owes it to constituents, who have consistently shown support for the reintegration of former non-violent felons into society by restoring their voting rights. A proper database would not only facilitate tracking court fines, fees, and case dispositions, but it would also ensure the efficient and accurate implementation of the 2018 amendment.
Furthermore, a reliable and well-maintained database would promote transparency and accountability within Florida’s justice system. By providing a single source of truth, it would minimize errors, redundancies, and confusion that can arise from maintaining multiple, disconnected systems. This would ultimately benefit all Floridians, including the legal professionals who rely on this information daily, and the citizens who need access to accurate information about their rights and obligations.
Additionally, investing in better a justice system databases would contribute to the overall modernization of the state’s public services. As the world increasingly relies on digital solutions, Florida should follow suit and embrace technology to improve its infrastructure. By doing so, the state would become a model for others to emulate, demonstrating the importance of prioritizing a well-organized and accessible justice system.
In the end, the development and maintenance of an efficient and comprehensive statewide database should be seen as more than just a response to the 2018 amendment. It should be viewed as an investment in Florida’s future. By taking this essential step, Florida would fulfill its obligations to the electorate.