Nikki Fried, Democratic lawmakers, pastors oppose changes to vote-by-mail in Florida

“This Legislature is doing everything they can to suppress … votes,” Fried said.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and fellow Democrats in the Legislature joined Florida pastors and activists on the steps of the Historic Capitol Thursday to oppose Republican-backed legislation they say would limit voting access.

Among other things, the bill (SB 90) would reduce the amount of time that a request for a mail ballot is good for, from two election cycles or four years to one cycle or two years. 

The legislation also would end the use of ballot drop boxes and prohibit anyone besides the “voter and his or her immediate family” from handling a mail-in ballot. 

The bill’s GOP supporters, including Ocala Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley, say it’s intended to prevent election fraud. Fried said the bill does “nothing good” and encouraged people to oppose it. 

“Too many people in our history have marched, have fought and have lost their lives to give us the right to vote today,” she said. 

“And now, this Legislature is doing everything they can to suppress those votes and to turn back time (to) a place where people didn’t have the right to vote, didn’t have access to the ballot box.” The Legislature is controlled by the GOP majority.

Democratic state Sens. Shevrin Jones and Annette Taddeo of South Florida, Reps. Kamia Brown of Ocoee and Fentrice Driskell of Tampa and other lawmakers attended the event but didn’t speak.

Representatives from a host of progressive and other groups, however, such as Equal Ground Action Fund, Florida State Network of African American Clergy Alliances, Southern Poverty Law Center and the League of Women Voters, all spoke against the bill.  

Jamil Davis, a lead organizer for Black Voters Matter said “the 2020 election in Florida was considered by many political insiders to be near-flawless in regards to voter protection, participation and the state conducting a fair election.”

Davis added that vote-by-mail works as is: “We as voters cannot control the swiftness of the United States Postal Service, so having an efficient, dependable option is key in high voter participation.”

He said the process of informing voters of the change for mail ballot requests would cost the state up to $16 million and put even more work on county supervisors of elections.  

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” Davis said.

The Senate bill has cleared two committees and is now before the Rules Committee, its last one before it can be heard on the floor.

A House companion (HB 7041) was assigned to that chamber’s Appropriations and State Affairs committees but has not yet been heard, records show. 

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