Election law roundup, April 30

It ain’t broke, but Florida ‘fixed’ it

“Yes, it is true — Florida ran a smooth election,” touted an Associated Press news story published November 4. Featuring glowing comments from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Joe Biden’s Florida spokewoman Jackie McGuinness, the story dove into how the Sunshine State went “from laughingstock (after the 2000 Bush-Gore debacle) to an Election Day star.”

That was then.

DeSantis is expected to sign a bill passed this week making dramatic changes in Florida’s election law. As The Washington Post reported, the legislature’s move triggered the expected backlash from Democrats and left-leaning groups, “passing a measure critics said would make it harder for millions of voters to cast ballots in the Sunshine State.”

The critics may be right. 

A common-sense phrase has become a GOP mantra: Election reforms should make it “easy to vote but hard to cheat.” I loathe making these debates partisan, but I agree with the sentiment.

As Republican and Democratic legislatures (along with Congress) weigh further changes in election laws, my recommendations include a version of the (truncated) Hippocratic oath: Do no harm. 

Election policies that are effective, have public confidence, and are familiar shouldn’t be replaced with ones that are speculative, inspire distrust, and are unclear. Avoid moves that undermine trust in election processes and could be used to suppress turnout.

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Florida’s big changes surround absentee voting, a tactic Republicans dominated … until 2020, when Democrats cast 680,000 more mail ballots than Republicans. More than 40% of Floridians voted absentee last year.

By all reports, fraud didn’t rampant in 2020. Still, the GOP had to act! (Republicans won most of the state’s major races, but nevermind.)

Former President Trump’s fingerprints are all over this, of course. He’s pushed Republicans nationally to clamp down on mail voting as “rampant with fraud,” though he cast his ballot through the U.S. Postal Service … in Florida.

The attention-grabbing changes include limiting ballot drop boxes and requiring voters who want mail ballots to request them every two years rather than every four, as the earlier law allowed.

DeSantis says the moves are meant to prevent fraud and other irregularities in 2022 and beyond. This shifts the argument from correcting problems that have occurred to anticipating ones that could occur. It’s a subtle and clever distinction.

County election supervisors had discretion under the previous law to allow 24/7 access to some drop boxes for absentee ballots; a survey by a University of Florida political science student and professor found, by early October 2020, 51 of the state’s 67 counties took this route. 

The new law says drop boxes must be manned by an elections worker, and the boxes are available at elections offices and early-voting sites only during early voting hours. Drop box locations can’t be moved (or added) within 30 days of an election.

To be sure, the earlier law helped accommodate voters who felt skittish about being in public during the pandemic, or who might not be able to get to an election office during early voting hours. The head of the Florida Supervisors of Elections, Hillsborough County Democrat Craig Latimer, urged a compromise allowing some 24/7 drop boxes monitored by security cameras after business hours.

Not happening.

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The new law also requires Florida voters who want an absentee ballot to request one every two-year election cycle, rather than once every four years, as allowed earlier. The Post says this has activists left and right flummoxed.*

Members of both parties said the provision will confuse voters who think they’re due to receive an absentee ballot automatically — and is likely to suppress turnout in off-year municipal elections, when voters on the request list automatically receive ballots. In federal elections, it could also put added pressure on in-person voting, resulting in long lines.

“Quite honestly, it’s one of the safest and most effective ways to vote,” said one frustrated former state GOP operative, who believes restrictions on mail voting are not good for either party and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to criticize the strategy. “This is really going to hurt Republicans, especially with seniors and the military.”

Other aspects of the law appear unobjectionable, even positive — a move banning the 2020 practice by Democrat-friendly activists to bypass the legislature and instead privately fund county election operations, is one.

But Florida’s restrictions on absentee voting, passed a few months after the state received kudos for its smooth election management, don’t quite pass my smell test.

If Florida smells, parts of Arizona stink

Over the objections of Maricopa County commissioners, the Arizona state Senate hired “the little-known firm” Cyber Ninjas (no kidding) to “audit” the 2.1 million ballots cast in Phoenix’s home county.

The stated reason: enhancing confidence in the integrity of the election results. Which won’t change, of course.

The actual reason: fan service to Trump’s base.

From The Hill*:

Cyber Ninjas has no experience in elections, and its website describes it as specializing in “all areas of application security, ranging from your traditional web application to mobile or thick client applications.”

The cyber ninjas also are shining ultraviolet lights on some ballots in the hopes of revealing “fraudulent” ones.

All righty, then.

If anything cast doubts on the integrity of elections, spending money to placate a bunch of yahoos about the outcome of the election rather than telling them the truth may top the list.

Hope nobody gets mysterious ailments from exposure to those UV rays.


N.C. update

Wednesday’s newsletter about recent entrants in the 2022 U.S. Senate race included the rumor that rumors had state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen considering a run. She’s since said she’s not interested.

He can’t wait to get on the road again

Willie Nelson turned 88 this week. Much like Bob Dylan, he’s an uneven performer. But, at least a decade ago, he could still make a song his own, including the ones he wrote! (This isn’t one of his …)

I chose this because it was on a playlist I assembled before the pandemic, when several Wake County public libraries asked the Raleigh Uke Jam to put together a program about the history of the ukulele and perform some songs. Three or four of us played at three libraries. It was a blast. Willie did it better. 

Enjoy your weekend!

*My bad: When formatting the newsletter, I didn’t blockquote a couple of passages. It went to subscribers without quoted material separated. I apologize for the error, which I fixed on the website. Again, apologies.

Thanks to operator error (mine), I put Wednesday’s newsletter inside the paywall. So this one’s on me. Of course, if you become a paid subscriber, it wouldn’t matter (hint, hint)!