Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
Voting rights defenders on Friday condemned the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature’s passage of a bill that critics said will make it harder to register Black and Latino voters while easing the way for Gov. Ron DeSantis to seek the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
The Florida House of Representatives passed S.B. 7050 by a 76-34 party-line vote after the state Senate approved the measure—which DeSantis is expected to sign into law—earlier this week.
S.B. 7050 would boost the power of Florida’s Office of Election Crimes and Security to review and conduct preliminary investigations into “any alleged election irregularity” and “make referrals for further legal action.”
Under the proposal, voter registration groups could be fined up to $250,000 per year—penalties are currently capped at $50,000— for failing to submit completed registration applications to officials within 10 days.
Multiple voting rights organizations have opposed the bill, arguing that these measures will “make it harder for Floridians to register and vote, and undermine Florida’s election administration."
— Black Voters Matter Fund (@BlackVotersMtr) April 26, 2023
“We can’t disregard, given recent history, that the Legislature’s unspoken intent, once again, is to impose barriers and confuse voters,” the Miami Herald‘s editorial board wrote in response to the legislation.
An amendment to the bill allows Florida’s governor to run for federal office without having to resign, a measure largely seen as opening the door for DeSantis to run for president.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Florida legislative leaders, officials from dozens of civil and voting rights groups warned that S.B. 7050 would “make it harder for Floridians to register and vote, and undermine Florida’s election administration.”
Mary Kay Rosinski, co-president of the League of Women Voters Villages/Tri-County, noted that the bill would:
- Create more barriers to conducting voter registration drives;
- Establish steeper fines for volunteer, community-based registration groups;
- Add more restrictions on mail-in ballots;
- Give the Office of Election Crimes and Security expanded authority to investigate and prosecute alleged election violations; and
- Remove the government’s liability for issuing voter registration cards to returning citizens whose voting rights have not been restored.
According to the progressive advocacy group Common Cause, one of the letter’s signers:
Provisions within the bill specifically target community-based voter registration groups with enormous fines and draconian new restrictions. These groups have made it possible for many Floridians to exercise their right to vote: One out of every 10 Black and Latino voters and one out of every 50 white voters in Florida have registered with the support of these organizations. These groups are especially important for Floridians who do not possess a Florida driver’s license or Florida state ID, making them unable to use the state’s online voter registration system.
In a particularly egregious restriction, this discriminatory legislation prohibits legal immigrants, Green Card holders, and people who are in the process of becoming U.S. citizens from helping register voters with community-based groups under threat of a $50,000 fine per person. These individuals make up a big part of the workforce to connect with eligible voters who face language barriers.
“This is the third year in a row Florida’s lawmakers have changed our voting rules, attacked community-based groups who support voters, and implemented unnecessary and confusing barriers for Floridians looking to participate in our democracy, while making no investment in voter education at all,” Common Cause Florida program director Amy Keith said in a statement.
“This makes clear their real aim: to suppress our voting rights and silence the voices of eligible Florida voters who want a more inclusive future for our state,” Keith added. “We need a democracy that works for everyone, and our Florida leaders should be targeting the wealthy special interests that dominate our politics, not everyday Floridians who deserve to exercise their right to vote without barriers.”
S.B. 7050’s passage by Florida lawmakers comes a day after a federal appeals court handed DeSantis a victory by overturning a lower judge’sruling blocking provisions of S.B. 90, a massive attack on voting rights signed by the governor in 2021. The law empowers partisan poll watchers, imposes strict voter ID requirements, criminalizes so-called “ballot harvesting,” limits ballot drop boxes, and bans advocacy groups from handing out food or water to voters waiting in long lines.