Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis calls for restrictive new voting laws

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, wants to make it harder to vote by mail after a record number of the state’s residents utilized the voting method during last year’s election.

In a speech on Friday, DeSantis said Florida had “the most transparent and efficient election anywhere in the country” last year, while advocating for more restrictions he said were necessary to “stay ahead of the curve” and improve confidence in the system.

Former President Donald Trump spent months denigrating the election system, and lying about who won the 2020 race. He particularly attacked mail voting as fraudulent.

Many states expanded their mail voting systems amid a pandemic that made congregating at the polls a health risk. And while Trump’s lies have been widely disproven, state Republicans across the country are nonetheless introducing and advancing new voting restrictions, which were often target issues raised by the president.

DeSantis proposed a spate of new election laws on Friday, calling for the state to limit the use of ballot drop boxes (the governor said ballots should be mailed or dropped off at election offices), as well as requiring voters to request mail ballots more frequently than they already do, which is roughly every two years. He also called for prohibiting ballot collection.

“We did it right in 2020, we obviously gotta look and make sure we’re doing it better,” he said. Trump beat Joe Biden in Florida by nearly 400,000 more votes while the state saw more than 9 million mail-in and in-person ballots returned — up 41 percent from the 2016 election.

He called for real-time reporting of voter turnout data, as well as codifying that unsolicited ballots won’t be mailed to voters in Florida — something he acknowledged the state already doesn’t do.

DeSantis said he would ask lawmakers to take up his proposals this year. Already, Republican lawmakers in Florida have introduced a bill requiring voters to request mail ballots each year.

“They seem to be addressing a problem that isn’t there,” said Eliza Sweren-Becker, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “We don’t have a voter fraud problem, it’s phenomenally scarce.”

The Brennan Center recently reported that there are more than 165 restrictive voting bills in the works in 33 states.

“The proposals that Gov. DeSantis has offered are consistent with a trend that we’re seeing across the country with state lawmakers trying to make it harder for voters to cast their ballots, particularly in the context of mail voting,” she said.

There are nearly 2,000 election-related bills working their way through state legislatures already this year, and mail voting is at the heart of man.

The voting method proved key to Biden’s victory, as more Democrats than Republicans embraced the method rather than congregating at the polls as an uncontrolled pandemic raged. Experts have attributed this split to Trump’s unrelenting effort to sow doubt in the integrity of the 2020 race with false claims that vote-by-mail is inherently fraudulent.

Since then, Republicans have zeroed in on the voting system for rollbacks, in some cases targeting laws the GOP had championed years before the pandemic.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel told Fox News recently that rolling back pandemic election changes like expanded mail-in voting was “absolutely an important effort” for the party.

Image: Jane TimmJane C. Timm

Jane C. Timm is a political reporter for NBC News.

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