Hundreds of thousands of Florida voters canceled mail-in ballot requests last month as a result of new law advocated by Ron DeSantis.
The change is part of a series of new restrictions on voting by mail, including new identification requirements and restrictions on ballot drop boxes. Republicans held after the 2020 election. Previously, Florida voters could automatically receive a mail-in ballot for each election for four years. At the end of 2022, the new measure canceled almost all permanent requests. Voters can now only request to automatically receive a ballot by mail for up to two years.
The change meant a big drop in the number of people who signed up to automatically receive a mail-in ballot. Local election officials are working to get people to renew their requests by contacting them directly and promoting the changes on their websites. But in the first month after the reset, relatively few people resumed their requests.
Despite this, Republicans passed the measure Florida is regularly praised for well-run elections and has seen no major voting problems in 2020. Postal voting is popular in the state, with about a third of voters using it in the 2022 general election. DeSantis said the new restrictions are needed to boost voter confidence, while voting advocates say they’re an excuse to make voting more difficult.
In Miami-Dade County, 438,000 mail-in ballot requests expired on Jan. 1, according to the county elections office. As of January 31, only 24,000 had renewed their request to vote by mail.
In Hillsborough County, where the city of Tampa is located, the local elections office sent a letter to 316,000 voters in December informing them that their request period would soon expire, said Jerry Kramer, a spokesman for the office. By the end of January, the office had just under 49,000 postal vote requests. In Orange County, which includes Orlando, nearly 3,500 requests were canceled at the end of last year. So far, 163 people have signed up.
All three counties said they are working to promote the change through social media and other advertising, and are contacting voters to let them know they need to reapply to receive a mail-in ballot. “This will be an ongoing effort, and we will continue to share information with voters as we get closer to the 2024 election,” Cramer said.
“Eliminating vote-by-mail requests for voters accustomed to using that method of voting will undoubtedly result in many of those voters — probably more than 1 million in Florida — not requesting a vote-by-mail in a timely manner,” said Daniel Smith. . , a University of Florida professor who is serving as an expert witness in a lawsuit challenging the law.
But the new law will confuse people and discourage them from voting, said Brad Ashwell, Florida state director of All Voting is Local, a voter advocacy group that is part of the coalition urging local election officials aggressively contacting people and telling them they need to submit new postal vote requests.
“Every time you add another one of those hoops, people have to jump again or change the rules, it’s going to put some people off and you’re going to have a problem with that,” he said. “And those are going to be people who typically either aren’t very motivated to vote, or you know they’re a more marginalized community that has issues with voting and various other barriers in the way.”
Voters whose mail-in ballot requests have been canceled may not realize it in time for local elections in the next few months. “We’re all kind of like everybody else, trying to make sure people know what they need to ask again if they want to vote by mail,” Ashwell said.
“We’ve had a lot of complaints from voters of all political persuasions saying, ‘Why did this change?'” said Mark Earley, director of elections in Leon County, where about 40,000 mail-in ballot requests were canceled. because of the change. “What we’re hearing is a lot of concern and a little bit of resentment about these changes.”
When Republicans pushed the legislation two years ago, at least one GOP lawmaker said lawmakers needed to quickly chip away at the lead in mail-in ballot requests that Democrats had built up ahead of the 2022 statewide election. Republicans have long used vote-by-mail in Florida, but during the pandemic in 2020, Democrats emphasized vote-by-mail, creating a strong advantage of voting by mail in Florida. Republicans, including Donald Trump, have said the process cannot be trusted.
Not to lose the democratic advantage would be “destructive,” wrote Republican Joe Gruters, chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a state senator, in 2021 in support of the bill. “We can’t get better. Trump’s campaign spent 10 million. Couldn’t cut the lead.”
Lawmakers ultimately decided to leave the existing requests in place until the 2022 general election, in which DeSantis was re-elected by a landslide. Instead, the requests were killed earlier this year.
Even if people can figure out how to resume their request, they face a new hurdle. Senate Bill 90 also requires voters to provide a government identification number or the last four digits of their Social Security number when they request a ballot. If the number they provide isn’t on file with election officials, it can make it more difficult to get a ballot.
“Indeed, many eligible voters who have ongoing inquiries will not even be able to request a mail-in ballot because they do not have a driver’s license or a Social Security number on file with their supervisor,” said Smith, the University of Florida professor. .
“It’s a system created by the Republican-controlled Legislature and Governor DeSantis, even though Republican and Democratic constituencies opposed it, and it’s designed to fail,” he added.
The reset comes amid concerns about more changes to the mail-in voting process. Last month, the working group of local election officials sent a report to the Florida Department of State saying the state should delay requiring voters to provide identifying information on mail-in ballot envelopes until the 2024 election. The measure would be costly to implement, potentially result in voters’ ballots being rejected and slow the time it takes to report election results, the report said.
Florida’s 67 election observers unanimously said the proposal was “unnecessary and lacks sufficient feasibility.”
On Wednesday, the Department of State seemed to have partly listened that request. In his own report to the Florida Legislature on potential changes to voting rules, he did not recommend requiring ID on the mail-in ballot itself.