Florida House Passes G.O.P.-Backed Bill on Voting Limits

The legislation, which now heads back to the State Senate for a vote, would add strict new rules for drop boxes and new identification requirements for absentee ballots, among other measures.,

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The G.O.P.-controlled Florida House passes an expansive bill of voting restrictions.

A woman dropped off her ballot at a drop box on the last day of early voting in West Palm Beach, Fla., in November.
A woman dropped off her ballot at a drop box on the last day of early voting in West Palm Beach, Fla., in November.Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times
  • April 28, 2021, 5:22 p.m. ET

A bill that would impose a raft of new restrictions on voting in Florida cleared the State House of Representatives on Wednesday after hours of contentious debate. Democrats denounced the legislation as overly stringent and unnecessary, and Republicans argued that it would install necessary “guardrails” for securing elections, despite their acknowledgment that the state’s election last year had been a “gold standard” without fraud.

The bill passed on a 78-to-42 vote, largely along party lines. Because the House added significant amendments to the bill, which had previously passed the State Senate, the legislation now faces a final vote in the full Senate before it heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who is expected to sign it.

The House revisions, which were made by Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican representative from Hernando County, north of Tampa, added new restrictions for the use of drop boxes, including an identification requirement for anyone who wants to drop a ballot into one. The revisions would also bar outside groups from providing funding or grants for the administration of local elections, and would further restrict who can collect and drop off absentee ballots.

The bill would also bar outside groups from giving water to voters within 150 feet of a voting location; add more identification requirements for absentee ballots; require voters to request an absentee ballot every election, rather than join an absentee voting list that would allow ballots to be sent out automatically for two consecutive cycles; and empower partisan observers during the ballot tabulating process.

Democrats in the Legislature repeatedly pressed Republican supporters of the bill for evidence of fraud in Florida that would bolster the G.O.P.’s case for the bill, but no examples were provided. Several Democrats noted that provisions of the bill, particularly the new identification requirements and ballot collection limitations, would have an outsize impact on communities of color.

“We know that it will have a disparate impact on folks like me, but it’s of no surprise because that’s our history,” said Christopher Benjamin, a Democratic representative from Miami-Dade County who is a Black man. “Our history has been to systematically, through subtleties that seem uninvasive, exclude our most vulnerable.”

“This bill doesn’t make elections better,” Mr. Benjamin said. “It doesn’t make elections easier. It continues a system that we have historically used to exclude.”

Republicans defended the bill, saying it was necessary to push forward with new rules for voting as a means of being proactive. They also noted that the current early voting laws in Florida, which allow for 45 days of in-person early balloting, are more expansive than those in other states.

“I take some issue with the fact that we’re trying to somehow restrict the vote,” said Ralph E. Massullo, a Republican representative from Hernando County. “There are more ways to vote in Florida, and a longer opportunity, than just about any state in the nation.”

But Democrats saw similarities to other states with Republican-controlled legislatures that have passed new restrictions on voting — most notably Florida’s neighbor Georgia, which recently passed a wide-ranging law.

“Please do not Georgia my Florida,” said Michael Grieco, a Democratic representative from Miami-Dade County.

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