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Backroom Briefing: Voter registration order draws fire

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Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd joined 14 other Republican secretaries of state in requesting the White House rescind a 2021 executive order labeled “Promoting Access to Voting.”

A letter signed by Byrd and the other state elections officials said the March 7, 2021, executive order, would “duplicate voter registration efforts conducted at the state level and ignore codified procedures and programs in our state constitutions and laws.”

“Involving federal agencies in the registration process will produce duplicate registrations, confuse citizens, and complicate the jobs of our county clerks and election officials,” the Aug. 3 letter said. “If implemented, the executive order would also erode the responsibility and duties of the state legislatures to their situational duty within the Election Clause (of the U.S. Constitution).”

Secretaries of state from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming also signed the letter.

Since the executive order was issued, Republicans have decried it as unconstitutional, contending, in part, the intent is to infiltrate state-run elections through get-out-the-vote schemes.

In criticizing the letter by Byrd and the other secretaries of state, Democratic voting-rights attorney Marc Elias on Wednesday tweeted, “Can you imagine being in charge of elections and complaining that the government is doing too much to help people register to vote?”

The executive order required federal agencies to “consider ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.”

Federal agency heads were also given 200 days to outline steps they could take to promote voter registration, with an emphasis on people with disabilities, Native American communities, military members serving overseas, and people who were formerly incarcerated.

“The head of each agency shall evaluate ways in which the agency can, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, promote voter registration and voter participation,” the order said.

MOVING MONEY TO FLORIDA

Five Florida transportation projects, totaling $85 million, will receive federal money that will help bulk up a port, a transit center, rail lines for cargo and passenger rail and improve traffic.

The money is part of $2.225 billion distributed Thursday from what is known as the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, (RAISE) Discretionary Grant program.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in a conference call Wednesday, said the money is intended to address supply chain issues and inflation. As an example, he pointed to $12.6 million going to Port Tampa Bay to construct a new berth at the Port Redwing facility, a project that is expected to add 800 jobs and reduce the number of miles trucks travel in the region.

“When we can move goods with more fluidity, that is taking away the upward pressure on shipping costs, which is part of what we're up against with prices,” Buttigieg said.

The federal spending also includes $20 million to replace the Park Street Terminal in downtown Clearwater with a more energy-efficient facility that will include two electric bus-charging stations and access for future light rail.

PortMiami is in line for $16 million to construct two cargo rail tracks, acquire three new electric-rubber-tired cranes and reconstruct a stormwater drainage system to address sea-level rise.

The Florida Department of Transportation will get just over $24.9 million for safety measures along the Florida East Coast Railway and Brightline railway corridor and $12.26 million to address congestion that threatens tourism in St. Augustine.

The projects were picked from among $13 billion in applications.

TAKING A POLITICAL DETOUR

The Florida Transportation Builders’ Association changed its bylaws last week so it could endorse candidates and quickly backed the re-election effort of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The endorsement was made the same day the state Department of Transportation paused controversial plans to extend Florida’s Turnpike northwest from Wildwood after four potential routes drew local opposition.

The Department of Transportation said in a news release that feedback turned up concerns with “portions” of all four proposed routes.

The transportation builders’ association was among groups that backed a 2019 law that called for three major road projects, including a turnpike extension. The Legislature scrapped major parts of the law in 2021, but the turnpike extension remained.

The association called the 2021 bill (SB 100) a “smart first step” toward addressing new and improved roads to accommodate vehicles as the state continues to grow.

“By signing Senate Bill 100 into law, Governor Ron DeSantis has helped in taking action to responsibly address both short-term and long-term infrastructure needs in our state,” an association statement said in 2021.

The association has also backed the re-election of Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Senate President Wilton Simpson’s bid for agriculture commissioner. All are Republicans.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “It was a beautiful raid. A perfect raid. People tell me they've never seen such as (sic) perfect raid.” — Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson), after FBI agents searched former President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach home.