How Florida’s new election law may affect your vote

Politics

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB-90 into law on Thursday in an event exclusively broadcast on Fox and Friends.

The new law brings multiple changes to how the state runs elections and how accessible voting is for those voting by mail or using absentee ballots at drop boxes. The newly-signed election measures are touted by the governor as a way to make Florida the leader of secure elections across the country but the bill’s opponents say it’s just a barrier to voter accessibility, particularly among Black and Latinx voters, and voters with disabilities, or the elderly.

The governor’s office released a statement on the bill’s effects saying it will make elections more secure and more transparent, as well as limit mass mailing of ballots, ban ballot harvesting and prevent private money from administering elections, and strengthen current voter ID laws.

“Floridians can rest assured that our state will remain a leader in ballot integrity,” said DeSantis in a statement released shortly after the bill was signed.

Now that DeSantis signed the bill into law, here’s a detailed look at what’s changing:

Changes to vote-by-mail

Under SB-90, voters are still able to request vote-by-mail instead of voting in-person. However, some changes are being made to the request process.

Voters can request vote-by-mail ballots via written request, in-person request or request by phone for all elections through the end of the calendar year of the next general election. The address of the voter must be on file in the Florida Voter Registration System or, if directly instructed by the voter, their immediate family member or legal guardian.

The voter will need to provide their Florida driver’s license number, ID number or last four digits of their social security number in order to request a vote-by-mail ballot.

Elections supervisors have to record the date the request is made, the personal identification number provided by the voter and the voter’s address – or that of the voter’s designee, if necessary. They will also need to record whether or not the voter’s certificate contains a signature that matches the signature stored in the registration books or precinct register.

SB-90 now prevents counties, municipalities and state agencies from sending mail ballots to voters unless they have been officially requested in the manners defined by the new voting law. If you’ve already made a request for an mail ballot, it will be counted as a valid ballot request through the 2022 general election, according to SB-90.

Changes to ballot drop box access

Drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots must be located at each permanent branch office of the election supervisor. The return mail envelope containing the ballot must be placed in a secure drop box.

But SB-90 makes some changes to how drop boxes are located. Drop boxes must now be geographically located to give all voters in the county an equal opportunity to cast a ballot.

Other than the secure drop boxes at an election supervisor’s office, secure drop boxes may only be used during early voting hours and must be monitored by an employee of the election supervisor’s office.

Drop box locations must be designated and have their addresses at least 30 days before an election. After a location is designated, it may not be moved or changed except when approved to correct a violation.

On each day of early voting, all drop boxes must be emptied after early voting hours end for the day and ballots must be returned to the election supervisor’s office. Drop boxes at a supervisor’s office must be retrieved before the drop box is no longer monitored by a supervisor’s employee, according to SB-90.

If a drop box is left accessible for receiving ballots outside of what is authorized by new rules defined in SB-90, the supervisor is subject to a $25,000 civil penalty and the election division is authorized to enforce it.

Former felons voting registration, live turnout data, plus secure online voting registration

The right for Floridians with prior felony convictions to vote was returned in 2018, contingent upon paying for any fines and fees having been paid.

SB-90 will require voters with prior convictions to declare that their voting rights have been restored by adding a box to check on the registration form.

The portion of the bill that adds this requirement reads:

“The uniform statewide voter registration application must be designed to elicit the following information from the applicant: Whether the application has been convicted of a felony and, if convicted, has had his or her voting rights restored by including the state ‘I affirm that I am not a convicted felon or, if I am, my right to vote has been restored.’ and providing a box for the applicant to check to affirm the statement.”

Section 3. Paragraph (t) of subsection (2) of section 97.052, Florida Statutes

SB-90 will also require the state to create and maintain a secure website for online voter registration.

The site must also incorporate load testing and stress testing capacity in a comprehensive risk assessment.

It must also screen computers and networks for malware and other vulnerabilities, plus evaluate database infrastructure, including software and operating systems, in order to fortify defenses against cyberattacks, as well as identify any anticipated threats to the data’s security and integrity.

SB-90 also requires election precincts to put out live election turnout data as it comes in, with updates pushed out every hour on Election Day. The voter turnout data must be transmitted to the election division, which has to make a real-time statewide dashboard for the public to watch the data come in.

Revising what counts as voter solicitation, expanding no-solicitation zones

Going forward, SB-90 makes it so the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has to help the Florida Department of State when it comes to tracking voter address changes. The Dept. of State will have to report each change to the elections supervisors who have to change the records, according to the state’s legal requirements.

On top of that, third-party voter registration organizations that are registered with the elections division will have to register with the state if they only solicit applications and do not collect or handle the voter registration applications themselves.

SB-90 also now requires that third-party organizations must deliver registration applications to the county where the voting applicant lives within two weeks of completing the application to registers. The voters must be notified that the application was collected by the third-party and that it might not be delivered on time to elections supervisors less than 14 days before registration closes for the next election.

Voters will still be able to vote by mail if the application is not delivered on time, but they must be informed by the third-party organization how to register online instead and how to check if their application has been delivered.

Each application that is delivered later than 14 days after it is completed will result in a $50 fine for the organization, owed to the state.

Under the new law, a person now has to be 150 feet away from a drop box location, polling place or early voting site – an increase from 100 feet. The penalty for violating this distance is unchanged, and still counts as committing a first-degree misdemeanor.

Those who enter a polling location to assist voters must have a Declaration to Provide Assistance filled out in advance, swearing or affirming that they are not an employer of or employee of an officer or agent of the voter, and that they have not solicited the voter at the polling place, drop box location or early voting site within 150 feet of the location.

No person, political committee, or other group or organization is allowed to solicit voters within 150 feet of a drop box or a drop box location, under the new law. Solicitation is defined as “engaging in any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter.”

SB-90 says the terms “solicit or solicitation” may not be construed to prohibit employees or volunteers with the supervisor from providing nonpartisan assistance to voters within the no-solicitation zone. This includes giving items to voters or prohibiting exit polling.

“The owner, operator, or lessee of the property on which a polling place or an early voting site is located, or an agent or employee thereof, may not prohibit the solicitation of voters by a candidate or a candidate’s designee outside of the no solicitation zone during polling hours,” the bill says.

Poll watcher ID requirements revised, election material storage changes

Poll watcher identification requirements have also been revised by SB-90. Elections supervisors must provide designated poll watchers a badge that identifies them by name. They must wear the badge at all times while performing their duties as poll watchers.

Plus, SB-90 says that election supervisors must retain all ballots, forms and election materials for a minimum of 22 months after an election. All unused ballots, forms, and other election materials may be destroyed, per existing law.

Handling damaged absentee ballots

Any damaged vote-by-mail ballots must have a “true duplicate copy” made, according to law. SB-90 makes it so the duplicate must be produced in an open and accessible room with witnesses present.

If it’s clear that the ballot was made in an overvoted race and that the voter has made a definite choice in the overvoted race or ballot measure, a duplicate will include all valid votes. Any duplicate made containing an undervoted race or ballot measure must have a clear indication that the voter made a definite choice.

Duplicates may not include a vote if the voter’s intent in such race or on such measure is unclear. The observer must be allowed to witness the entire duplication process, including the markings on both the original ballot and the duplicate as they take place.

Also, duplications have to happen in front of at least one canvassing board member, according to SB-90. If an observer makes a reasonable objection to the duplication of a ballot, it must be presented to the canvassing board to determine the ballot is valid. If the board says the ballot’s duplicate is invalid, the vote will be rejected and a proper duplicate must be made to be counted instead of the original.

Changes to candidate requirements

SB-90 also makes changes to how you qualify to run for office. Anyone seeking to qualify as a political candidate for a political party must now be a registered member of that party for at least a year before seeking nomination.

There are also changes to how no-party candidates qualify. Anyone who wants to qualify for office without having a political party affiliation will have to state in writing that they are not registered with a party and that they have not been a registered member of a party for at least a year before qualifying for an election.

Voter certificates and public inspections, voting system audits

According to SB-90, voter certificates on mailing envelopes must be open for public inspection or examination while in the custody of the supervisor of elections or a county canvassing board.

A candidate, political party official or political committee official, or someone they’ve authorized, must be granted reasonable access when requested to review or inspect ballots before canvassing or before votes are counted. SB-90 says this includes voter certificates on vote-by-mail envelopes, cure affidavits, corresponding comparison signatures, duplicate ballots and corresponding originals.

Supervisors have to give notice before comparing signatures on voter certificates and must publish notices of access. No person granted access for a review of a ballot may make any copy of a signature.

Voting systems must also be audited by the county canvassing board each general election year by Dec. 15. The audit must be consolidated into a single report with the overvote and undervote report that is already required by law. The report must be submitted by Feb. 15 each year after a general election.

No more private funds for election expenses

Private funds can no longer be used for election-related expenses. Under SB-90, no agency or state or local official who works on elections may solicit, accept, use or dispose of any donation to fund election-related expenses.

The proposed legislation is written to include grants, property or personal services from individuals or other nongovernmental entities. So if the money used to pay for election costs is coming from someone who isn’t working in the state’s government in some capacity – be it local, county, or the state – their money is longer allowed to be used for costs of elections.

SB-90 includes funding of voter education, voter outreach and voter registration programs as expenses that can no longer receive donations from private funding. The proposed law also says that donating and acceptance of space to be used as polling rooms or early voting sites do not count as an illegal donation, within this context.

DeSantis made mention of the private money going into the 2020 elections at a speech he gave in St. Petersburg on May 3, referring to some of the money donated through grants during the election to pay for some expenses as “Zuckerbucks” in reference to grants donated by Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Facebook.

The reference continues the trend of targeting Facebook and its social media contemporaries over the role of social media, the internet and “Big Tech” in politics and the alleged biases against conservative voters and politicians within online communities.

New requirements to challenge Election Code provisions in state or federal court

SB-90 creates new rules for civil actions that challenge parts of the Florida Election Code when the challenge involves state or county agencies or officers in state or federal court, or have an attorney acting on their behalf for those cases.

The new rules say that if there’s a state or county official named in an elections-focused civil action challenge and the challenge targets the validity of a part of the code, the officer or their attorney are not allowed to settle the action, consent to any conditions or agree to orders that would conflict with Election Code unless written notice is given to the president of the Senate, speaker of the House, and the state’s attorney general.

Basically, if a county or state officer or agency is being sued over something involving elections, they have to tell the heads of the state legislature and the AG or they won’t be able to settle anything.

On top of that, any proposed settlements, consent decrees or orders proposed that would nullify, suspend or conflict with provisions in the Election Code must be promptly reported in writing to the above state leaders. Written notice must also be given 10 days before a settlement or pre-settlement agreement is finalized.

SB-90 also says that if a court enters an order or judgment that nullifies or suspends, or orders or justifies an official actions that conflicts with the Florida Election Code, the legislature will amend the law to remove the part that makes the court orders invalid or unenforceable.

If the law must be amended in such a way, SB-90 makes it so the agency or officer in question must move to dismiss or terminate any ongoing jurisdiction of those cases.

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