Currently, Republican lawmakers across the country are pushing for increased voter restrictions. This effort is, in part, sparked by Donald Trump’s rhetoric of a stolen election after his loss in 2020. One of the main states rolling out these new voting laws is Florida. In the 2020 presidential election, Florida received minimal reports of fraud, long lines, or disqualified ballots. Despite the borderline seamless execution of the 2020 election in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis insists on stricter security to ensure a “safe and secure” election. The bill, signed in April of 2021, is widely supported by Florida Republicans, as they believe these laws make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” Relevant Democrats disagree and view Senate Bill 90 as discriminatory, restrictive, and inaccessible. Senate Bill 90 immediately took effect, in time for the possible re-election of Governor DeSantis in 2022.
One of the biggest issues with Senate Bill 90 is that it actively prohibits people from helping others drop off their absentee ballots. Under the new laws, individuals are not allowed to possess more than two mail-in ballots, unless they belong to immediate family members. This restriction specifically impacts those in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. The nature of this law will likely decrease the number of votes in the applied demographic, restricting them from gaining the help they may need in order to exercise their right to vote. In addition, each box must now be monitored by a member of the supervisor's office.
The law also impacts the way individuals obtain mail-in ballots. In the past, individuals filed one application in order to receive absentee ballots for each election over the course of four years (two election cycles). Now, individuals must apply for a new ballot each election cycle (every two years). The extra work needed to apply may cause some Florida residents to abstain from voting. Anna Carpenter, Florida native and LSOEHD ‘22, believes that “these new voting laws will have a huge effect on my fellow Floridians' access to voting and as a result, election outcomes will not fully represent my state’s people.” Specifically, Carpenter points out that “the GOP isn’t really talking about how this is disproportionately affecting low-income communities and communities of color.” Carpenter is not alone in this sentiment, and she hopes more Florida residents will speak out against Senate Bill 90.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (1965), any change in voting laws could not be enforced until the Department of Justice approved. This law also heavily applied to states with a history of racial discrimination. In 2013, Chief Justice Roberts claimed that racial discrimination in voting no longer constituted a significant threat. Many that are opposed to Florida’s changes believe that the elimination of this aspect of Section 5 is what paved the way for these changes to occur. Not only does Senate Bill 90 affect those in nursing homes and assisted living (a demographic which heavily contributes to Florida’s population), but critics of the law believe that the new laws will disproportionately affect people of color. Low-income voters and voters of color are traditionally more reliant on after-hours drop boxes due to the difficulty that comes with taking hours off during the day and organizing transportation to vote.
Several different voting rights groups have filed lawsuits, including the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Black Voters Matter Fund, and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans all came together and filed a suit. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s suit argues that Senate Bill 90 explicitly violates the Voting Rights Act (1965), and the groups all believe that “Senate Bill 90 does not impede all of Florida’s voters equally.” These groups also believe that by putting these laws in place, Florida will be making it “more difficult for certain types of voters to participate in state elections” which specifically refers to those who vote-by-mail and those with substantial barriers to voting. Decreasing people’s ability to vote in elections is out of line with America’s ideals of democracy, and disproportionately impeding access to voting for different groups of people is even more so. Time will tell whether Florida’s Senate Bill 90 will be struck down or modified after lawsuits, or if it will set a dangerous precedent for states around the country to follow in Florida’s footsteps.