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Florida is a brand for elections. The GOP needs reform anyway.

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Florida is a brand for elections. The GOP needs reform anyway.

 

Florida was a model citizen when it came to elections in 2020. The state showed off its years of voting reforms. Even as Donald Trump railed against voting systems elsewhere, he praised Florida and encouraged his followers to trust its vote-by-mail system. And, yes, findings were published quickly and accurately. Turnout soared.

It was all supervised by GOP officials. And Trump won, continuing Republicans’ the supremacy in the state.

But three months later, Florida Republicans have set out to change the state’s voting system anyway. GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday announced an array of voting reforms, though state legislators have introduced legislation that makes it harder to vote by mail. To justify the efforts, Florida Republicans point not to proof of issues but to the potential for voter fraud and scepticism about the mechanism.

“We want everyone to vote, but we don’t want anyone to cheat,” DeSantis said Friday.

Florida Republicans’ drive to reform voting laws reveals how deep false allegations of widespread voter fraud spread by Trump have burrowed into Republicans’ belief system. The party is now stampeding to address an issue that most nonpartisan analysts and courts say does not exist. Their efforts are threatening to dismantle years of bipartisan attempts to improve voting in many states, including areas where the GOP has thrived under the current system.

And that would result in making it more difficult to vote.

“We cannot comprehend where they’re coming from,” said Anjenys Gonzalez-Eilert of Florida Common Cause, adding the GOP has long been a sponsor and beneficiary of mail voting in the state.

Similar efforts are being replicated throughout the world. State Republican lawmakers in Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania have introduced voting bills, mostly aimed at curbing mail voting.

The law reflects Republicans’ common perception that new laws making it easier to vote by mail during the pandemic primarily favoured Democrats and triggered “irregularities.” While there were no signs of widespread irregularities, they frequently point to vote totals skewed in Democrat Joe Biden’s favour as mail ballots were counted days after Election Day — a trend that was new to many states but not a sign of fraud.

But that was not a problem in Florida. It has long required its election offices to start the laborious process of preparing mail ballots for counting — extracting them from their envelopes and checking voters’ signatures well before Election Day. While ballot counts in many states new to mail voting dragged on for days, Florida’s count was simple and effective.

There was no suggestion of fraud in Florida. Of the nearly 50 court cases Trump and his allies brought challenging the election, none were filed in Florida. (Even in those states where Trump alleged there was fraud and sought to reverse the election, hundreds of courts dismissed his legal arguments and no major cases were proved.)

Florida officials take pride in their recent record. Ever after the drama of the 2000 presidential election recount — when “hanging chads” turned the state into a national joke — the state has tried to shed its reputation as the exemplar for elections gone wrong.

Election officers have sought to shore up confidence in the state’s election system — by improving how ballots are crafted, modernising vote-counting equipment and spending millions of dollars to protect against cyberthreats.

Even DeSantis took credit for November’s results.

“We did it right,” he said Friday before supporters in West Palm Beach.

Still, he called for tightening voting rules. His plan involves limiting the use of drop boxes where voters can deposit mail ballots and prohibiting other people from dropping off voters’ ballots, a practise many call “ballot harvesting.” DeSantis also seemed to support the Republican bill that would make mail balloting harder by forcing voters to submit a mail ballot every year, rather than allow them to make one request that stands for two years’ worth of elections.

The plan is noteworthy because for years Republicans dominated vote by mail in Florida, and it was supported by the state’s many older voters. It helped the GOP cement a durable statehouse majority and narrowly win statewide races.

But the Republicans in Florida lost their edge last year. Trump railed against mail voting, and GOP voters’ confidence in the system sank, according to surveys. In Florida, his concerns worried state Republicans, and Trump sent out tweets saying that in Florida, where he voted by mail, the system was “Safe and Secure, Tried and True.”

In the end, Democrats in the state outvoted Republicans by mail for the first time in years when a record 4.9 million Floridians voted by mail. Democrats cast 680,000 more mail ballots than Republicans did.

The new bill will effectively erase those new Democratic voters from the rolls ahead of 2022, when DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio lead the list of incumbent Republicans up for reelection.

“Republicans used to have the advantage, and now it’s the Democrats who have the advantage. So now it’s time to make a change,” said campaign strategist Mac Stipanovich, a former Republican.

“There’s no doubt that these are voter suppression efforts,” said Stipanovich, adding that the strategy in Florida could make voting by mail more difficult for people who are poor, less educated and don’t have extensive experience in voting.

Republicans have forced a similar reform in Arizona, another state where GOP lawmakers helped build a bipartisan, common framework but are now trying to change it. Their campaign suffered an early blow this week when the Arizona Senate voted down a bill to purge around 200,000 people from the state’s absentee voter list. One Republican senator joined all 14 Democrats to suppress the bill in a 15-15 tie.

In Georgia, a previously red state that Democrats narrowly won first in November and then in two Senate runoff elections in January, lawmakers held a tense hearing over Republican plans to limit postal voting and abolish early in-person voting on Sundays, when Black churches often send parishioners to the polls.

In Florida, state Sen. Dennis Baxley, the bill’s creator, says he isn’t aiming for some political benefit but just wants to reverse a 2007 measure that established the two-year window.

Notably, Baxley was the lawmaker who helped pass the bill. He now claims he can’t remember his reasoning at the time. “Lots has happened in 13 years,” he said. “I just think it’s time for a reset.”

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