TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott introduced a new bill this week that would significantly change Florida election laws and potentially disenfranchise millions of voters, including Florida’s military servicemembers.
In a press release via email, Sen. Scott’s office said the VOTER Act would “establish uniform standards for vote-by-mail systems across the country.”
It is extremely unlikely the bill would become law during this election cycle because voting is already underway and House Democrats would never pass the bill. But if it ever does become law, the bill’s most controversial provisions would throw elections offices in Florida into a critical time crunch.
The text of the bill says “all ballots validly cast in an election for Federal office shall be counted and reported within 24 hours after the conclusion of voting on the date of the election.”
That cuts out many overseas and military voters, whose ballots can arrive up to 10 days after Election Day as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
“We think this is just another bad idea to prevent people from voting,” said Michael Barfield, president of the ACLU of Florida.
The VOTER Act would also only allow elections offices to count mail ballots “beginning at the time polls open on the date of the election.”
Dustin Chase, Pinellas County’s deputy supervisor of elections, said that would create major issues, taxing a system that in his county can handle around 100,000 ballots an hour with all things going well. It would be a dramatic change from current Florida law, which allows elections supervisors to begin counting mail ballots 22 days before the election.
The bill would require voters to request mail ballots via a standard form by mail or online. Currently, Floridians can request mail ballots by those methods and also by phone or in person.
It would also mandate voters request mail ballots by 21 days before the election. Current Florida law allows voters to request mail ballots up to 10 days before the election by mail or online, and even later if they request it in person at an elections office.
“That 11 extra days potentially creates a situation where someone who wanted to vote by mail, couldn’t,” said Chase.
The bill would also allow voters to return the ballot to their polling place. Chase said that would create chaos — elections offices would have no way of securing those ballots because many polling places are churches, schools, libraries or other locations that don’t handle ballots or voters until until Election Day. That provision would also create issues with ballot security, requiring renegotiation of contracts with many of those sites.
Right now, voters can return mail ballots in person only to designated drop boxes, official county elections offices, or Early Voting locations.
8 On Your Side reached out to Sen. Scott’s office for an interview about the bill. His press office said he was unavailable.
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