Voting reform

The Miami Herald

Florida Republicans’ tactics ahead of the 2022 elections are clear and simple: Make it hard for citizens to vote by mail. When they go to the polls in the Florida heat, make standing in line more miserable by making it illegal to hand them water.

In Republicans’ fantasy world — one in which Donald Trump won “by a landslide” and we have to “fix” the system to keep Black and brown people from turning out in large numbers — giving someone a bottle of Dasani as they stand on line to vote is going to turn America into Venezuela.

But House Bill 7041 is not a fantasy. And Floridians are in danger of it becoming reality. This legislation would make anyone who dares give a bottle of water to someone standing on line to vote face a misdemeanor charge if it becomes law.

It’s not lost on us that Black voters in Florida have historically faced some of the longest voting lines, often in the hot, humid weather during Florida’s August primaries.

Just like Georgia

This measure is part of a sweeping elections reform bill that mirrors the controversial law Georgia just passed and that’s subject of a lawsuit. It’s cruel, racist and tries to thwart the promise of democracy that Blacks and others rightly fought to secure.

HB 7041 would expand the zone at polling sites in which voters cannot be solicited from 100 feet to 150 feet. That no-solicitation zone is meant to protect voters from coercion and prohibits things like handing out political material and leaflets. The bill would expand the meaning of “solicitation” to include “giving or attempting to give any item; and interacting or attempting to interact with any voter.” Sponsor Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, told a House committee last Monday that includes food and beverages.

The bill’s food-and-beverage provision is not even its most egregious — though it might be its most absurd. But it shows Republicans’ boldness when they control legislatures as they do in Florida and Georgia. They have stopped pretending their true intention isn’t to thwart voter participation.

The bill also would require voters to request vote-by-mail ballots every election cycle instead of every two cycles, as the law currently allows. The legislation would, however, allow ballots requested before the bill’s effective date on July 1 to be valid for next year’s gubernatorial election. The bill also would prohibit anyone other than an immediate family member from handling someone’s ballot to prevent what’s known as “ballot harvesting.”

It gets worse

The Senate version of the bill (SB 90) goes even further: It would eliminate ballot drop boxes, which are a convenient and safe way for voters to return their ballots without having to put them in the mail. (the House version would only increase security for them). It would also force voters who requested a ballot for 2020 to re-apply ahead of 2022. Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Christina White has warned that would remove more than 404,000 voters scheduled to receive mail ballots over the next two years. Educating voters about these changes would cost counties hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ingoglia, and virtually every Republican pushing for this bill, has said Florida set an example in 2020 of how to efficiently run an election. Ingoglia said, “We shouldn’t rest on our laurels.”

We’re not stupid. This is nothing more than an attempt to appease Trump and his base while making it harder for minorities and Democrats, whose mail ballot returns outpaced Republicans last year, to vote. The irony is that, up until Trump, Republicans promoted mail voting, which helped them dominate state politics.

As Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley told a Senate committee earlier this month, these proposed changes seem to be “setting us up for another 2012, where we have long lines and chaos and confusion,” the Herald reported.

Long lines, confusion — and no water. That’s all clearly by design.

Meanwhile, Republicans have not been able to show instances of widespread voter fraud, abuse of drop boxes or any fraud involving water bottles.

Yet they insist reforms are needed to restore voter confidence in the electoral process.

You know what else would accomplish that? Telling their base that Joe Biden won the 2020 elections fair and square, because, as guaranteed by the Constitution, eligible Americans cast their votes — fair and square.

By Patricia Older