Fla. becomes latest state to enact restrictive voting law

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed new voting legislation into law on Thursday. It enacts restrictions on voting by mail and at drop boxes, which Democrats and activists warn could suppress voter turnout.

DeSantis, a Republican, signed the bill, which was passed by the GOP-controlled legislature last month, live on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” during an interview with the show’s hosts. Throughout the week, the governor had been holding more formal bill-signing ceremonies across the state as he signed bills into law.

DeSantis argued that the bill protects the “integrity and transparency” of Florida’s elections and that after the 2020 election, which was successful, the changes will keep the state “ahead of the curve,” echoing the message Republicans have used for months to push back on criticism of their legislation.

“We think this will make it even better as we go forward, so we’re proud of the strides we’ve made, but we’re not resting on our laurels,” he told Fox News.

DeSantis’ signature enacts a host of changes into Florida’s election laws, including limits on where drop boxes could be placed, restrictions on who can drop off a voter’s ballot, a mandate that drop boxes be staffed while open, new powers for partisan poll watchers as well as a requirement that voters must request to vote-by-mail more frequently.

The governor has gained prominence during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in conservative circles, where he’s seen as one of the top Republicans jockeying for a future presidential bid. Fox & Friends has become a mainstay for Republican politicians, and a show former President Donald Trump has lavished with praise.

Local reporters said that they were not allowed into the event and were told it was exclusive to Fox. DeSantis confirmed later Thursday that he was “happy to give them the exclusive on that.”

A Fox News spokesperson told NBC News that the show “did not request or mandate” that the event “be exclusive” to the network.

The new laws go into effect immediately, in time for local elections, the forthcoming special House election to replace the late Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and next year’s midterms, which will include elections for governor and the U.S. Senate.

The changes have specific implications for the special elections for the Hastings seat — the bill also includes a change to the state’s “resign-to-run” law that will allow DeSantis to appoint replacements to fill seats being vacated by some local officials who want to run for that congressional seat. During debate in the legislature last month, Democrats framed that piece of the legislation as a power grab.

Democrats have also taken aim at the broader changes, joining with voting-rights groups to cast the changes as political retribution after Democrats posted strong vote-by-mail turnout in the 2020 election, and arguing the restrictions will have an outsized effect on minority voters.

The bill “seeks to silence voters’ voices based on what they look like or where they come from,” voting- and civil-rights activists from more than 20 local and national groups — including the NAACP and the Florida chapters of the ACLU and All Voting is Local — wrote in a letter to DeSantis sent before he signed the bill.

They added that “Black and brown voters” are more likely to work longer hours, live in larger households and “rely on community voter registration drives to access the ballot, making these restrictions especially unfair.”

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., who announced his gubernatorial bid against DeSantis this week, called the law “pathetic” in a statement.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Black Voters Matters Fund, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and others announced shortly after the bill became law that they are suing over the law, arguing that it violates the constitutional rights of Floridians.

As Republicans in the Legislature defended the bill as a way to shore up potential fraud in the future, they also argued that while those trying to drop off ballots at a drop box would face new limitations, voters can always drop off their ballot in a mailbox like normal.

Many voters sought out drop boxes instead of voting through the mail last election, particularly amid concerns about the efficiency of mail service during the pandemic.

Now that the law is on the books, Florida is the latest Republican-led state to pass new voting restrictions months after former President Donald Trump began making unfounded claims the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

Georgia passed its own restrictions in March, prompting a pushback from Democrats and activists that ultimately resulted in a handful of major corporations denouncing the move and Major League Baseball moving its All-Star Game out of the state. A push for new voting restrictions in Texas, which could be the next state to enact similar measures, has also prompted businesses to speak out.

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