TAMPA (WFLA) – Are they guardrails for election security or hurdles that will make it harder for Floridians to vote?
The Florida House of Representatives took up HB 7041 on Tuesday, a bill that includes a range of reforms that would overhaul voting rules in the state.
Republican supporters say it is about election integrity, while Democratic critics argue it is unnecessary and restrictive legislation after a successful 2020 election.
“It is extremely easy to vote in the state of Florida and we’re just making sure that nobody is gaming the system,” said State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, the bill’s sponsor.
The proposals before Florida’s House and Senate would enact new voter ID and signature requirements, restrict who can return completed ballots, place new rules on ballot drop boxes and only allow election workers to distribute items, including food and water, within 150 feet of polls or drop boxes.
“This bill, this amendment, is a slap in the Supervisors of Elections’ faces – after an election that you said, we say, was once of best we’ve had,” said Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville.
The Republican-controlled House struck down more than a dozen amendments proposed by Democrats that included making Election Day a state holiday and a measure that would allow same-day registration and voting.
Democrats took turns questioning Rep. Ingoglia about the necessity of the bill.
“Were there any examples of ballot harvesting in the last election? the 2020 election cycle?” Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa asked.
“I don’t know,” Rep. Ingoglia said, “but I’m sure it was going on. Just the fact that they weren’t caught doesn’t necessarily mean its not happening.”
The proposed changes for vote by mail include only allowing immediate family members, grandchildren included, to return a voter’s ballot.
The drop boxes that became popular during the pandemic must be monitored at all times by a Supervisor of Elections staff member and they would only be accessible during early voting hours.
The bill follows similar legislation put into place by Georgia’s new election law that bars outside groups from handing out food or water to people in line to vote.
The bill comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis advocated for new mail voting restrictions last month.
“We have drop boxes that we now need to require ID to turn in, unnecessary,” Rep. Davis said.
Rep. Ben Diamond (D-St. Petersburg) told 8 On Your Side the bill would make it more difficult to call an election fairly and promptly after the polls close.
“Basically they are setting up a process for ballots to be challenged and litigated while they’re being counted,” Diamond explained.
A vote is expected in the House on Wednesday. If passed, the bill would return to the Senate for the final approval before reaching Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for signature.