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Florida lawmakers pass a sweeping elections bill

A Vote Here sign in a parking lot
Michael Flippo
/
stock.adobe.com
A Vote Here sign in a parking lot

The Florida House has given final approval to a sweeping elections bill that would place more restrictions on voter-registration groups. Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the measure, which would ensure he could run for president in 2024 without having to resign his current post.

Current Florida law requires anyone seeking office to resign from the one they already hold after qualifying as a candidate. The bill heading to DeSantis would exempt officeholders who run for U.S. president or vice president from having to resign.

Backers of the bill say it’s not tailored for the governor but just a clarification, although DeSantis is widely expected to announce a presidential bid after the legislative session.

Senate president Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, says she’s not convinced DeSantis would have to resign to run in any case. She points out that in order to qualify, candidates must swear an oath of office, turn in their petitions or pay a fee, and submit a financial disclosure, but nothing …

“Nada nada nada dealing with president or vice president,” said Passidomo. “So how do you take that leap that you have to resign in order to qualify? Qualifying -- there’s no such thing as qualifying for president or vice president unless -- and there’s a whole section of statute -- you want to be a write-in.”  

Democrats say the measure is a way for the Republican-controlled Legislature to speed DeSantis on his way to higher office. But Passidomo says it would help Florida if any state resident were to become president.

“As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter who it is, if somebody from Florida runs for president and wins, it’s really going to be great for all of us,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Any party. It could be Independent, Republican, Democrat -- doesn’t matter. It would be great for all of us, for our state.”  

Democrats say they’re much more concerned that the bill’s additional restrictions on voter-registration groups would make it harder for people to sign up to vote. The measure includes onerous new fines for outside voter-registration groups. Here’s state Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat and the House minority leader:

“So Ron DeSantis and the Republicans are literally pricing people out of democracy. They’re making it harder for people to vote,” said Driskell. “They’re particularly doing this in 2023 so that those impacts will be felt in 2024. And to me it’s all just a sneaky, back-door way to, frankly, suppress votes.”  

Democrats also say the bill is just another attempt to reduce minority turnout.

“If you look at where the fines were for third-party voter registration organizations just two years ago, they were at, like, $1,000,” said Driskell. “And now we’ve escalated them to $250,000. Who can afford to pay that? Many of these groups are small nonprofits, and they’re doing what they understand to be the best thing they can do to try to get more people involved in our democratic process.”  

The bill would also require that voter-registration groups provide receipts when they collect applications from people. And it would shorten from 14 to 10 days the length of time groups have to turn in applications to elections supervisors; it would impose a $50-per-day fine for each application that is turned in late.

Copyright 2023 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Margie Menzel
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