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Florida's elections supervisors were meeting together as judge struck down voting law

A vote-by-mail ballot being handed through an office window.
Associated Press

One of the largest gatherings of election officials in Florida history recently took outside Orlando. It happened right as voting experts got the surprising news that a federal judge had struck down major portions of an election law approved a year ago.

When attendance soared above 400, elections officials knew something unusual was happening. From all corners of the state, people came for an all-day training workshop for canvassing boards, the obscure three-member teams that oversee recounts in close races, verify signatures, interpret voter intent and deal with disruptions.

“You are our strongest partners in ensuring that the public understands election integrity.”

That’s Secretary of State Laurel Lee. She told the crowd that transparency in counting votes and accuracy in reporting results will improve public faith in elections in this era of misinformation and disinformation.

Alan Hays is Supervisor of Elections in Lake County, and he has seen his share of disruptions.

“Many of the supervisors with whom I have conversations have faced that, and it’s very unfortunate that so many people are perpetuating that kind of atmosphere when, in fact, nothing has been presented yet of any significance that shows there was any hanky-panky going on in Florida elections in 2020,” Hays said.

Hayes warned lawmakers against passing the bill when it was before the legislature in 2021.

At Thursday’s workshop at a Kissimmee hotel, the news broke that federal judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee had struck down key provisions of last year’s election law changes as unconstitutional, including restrictions on vote-by-mail drop boxes that the judge said discriminated against Black voters.

Those changes were not recommended or supported by election supervisors. Leon County Supervisor Mark Earley said the judge’s ruling is sure to be appealed, which will add to the election-year stress in Florida.

“The ability to plan is integral to success in elections,” Earley said. “This decision, and I’m sure the ultimate appeals, just drags out the uncertainty within which we are trying to get our jobs done -- and coupled with redistricting and the challenges to the congressional maps in Florida, it’s kind of unprecedented, the amount of uncertainty we have.”

After Judge Walker’s 288-page ruling, Gov. Ron DeSantis and most top Republicans were silent. But House Speaker Chris Sprowls called it an “egregious abuse of his power” that the judge ordered that he must personally approve certain voting law changes in Florida for the next 10 years.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.
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