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DeSantis signs controversial election bill; Voter rights groups file lawsuits

Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 10:05 AM EDT
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (WWSB) - Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a elections overhaul bill Thursday that has already prompted a lawsuit by voter rights groups that say the new law will make it harder for citizens to vote.

DeSantis, who will be on the ballot next year to run for a second term, signed the bill (SB 90) on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends” after an event with supporters in West Palm Beach.

In the event closed to reporters, DeSantis called the bill the “strongest election integrity measures in the country” and said it “keeps us ahead of the curve” after Florida had a smooth 2020 election.

“We’re not resting on our laurels, and me signing this bill here says, ‘Florida, your vote counts, your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy,’” DeSantis said.

In response, two lawsuits have been filed against the new law.

This morning, the League of Women Voters of Florida announced they filed a suit to nullify the law, which they say is a broad attempt at voter suppression. The text of the lawsuit can be found here.

“The League of Women Voters of Florida has fought SB 90 since its introduction, and we’re continuing our fight now,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color. It’s a despicable attempt by a one party ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot. It’s undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American.”

At the same time, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida and Common Cause filed a separate federal lawsuit alleging that bill is unconstitutional and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The 2021 voter suppression law is just the latest in a long line of voter suppression laws targeting Florida’s Black voters, Latino voters, and voters with disabilities.” said the lawsuit, which was filed in Tallahassee and named Lee as the defendant. “For far too long, Florida’s lawmakers and elected officials have created a vast array of hurdles that have made it more difficult for these and other voters to make their voices heard.”

DeSantis and GOP lawmakers disagree, saying the bill makes voting more secure.

The bill limits the use of drop boxes. It would restrict their placement at early voting sites and “permanent” branch offices, so long as the boxes are staffed by their employees. Among other changes, the bill will require voters to request mail-in ballots more frequently than before.

Democrats and many voting-rights groups said the bill would suppress voting after a November election in which many more Democrats voted by mail than Republicans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, criticized the bill this week, saying it would disenfranchise voters.

“They came for your voting rights with SB 90, limiting mail ballots and drop boxes which proved essential during a global pandemic,” Fried said.

Fried has scheduled a news conference Thursday morning to address the issue.

In its lawsuit, the League of Women Voters of Florida challenges provisions in the bill that impose restrictions on vote-by-mail drop boxes, the effective ban on organizations and volunteers from helping voters return their vote-by-mail ballots, and the requirements that force voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot more frequently and ban any non-poll worker from giving food or drink, including water, to voters waiting in line.

Defendants in the suit include Florida’s Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, as well as every county’s supervisor of election, including Ron turner in Sarasota County and Michael Bennett in Manatee County.

Republican lawmakers in many states have pushed for new elections restrictions as former President Donald Trump has continued to falsely blame “rigged” and fraudulent elections for Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in November. Courts rejected numerous lawsuits in which Trump and his supporters challenged the handling of the November elections. Trump defeated Biden handily in Florida.

The full text of Senate Bill 90 can be found here.

-- Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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