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Florida's Republican governor Ron DeSantis signed multiple new voting restrictions into law Thursday, staging a made-for-TV signing ceremony meant to cater to the Florida Republican Party’s conservative base.
Although Florida has found no evidence of widespread fraud, DeSantis said at a live bill-signing event aired exclusively on Fox News that the new law would prevent fraud and restore confidence in Florida’s elections. The move is the latest GOP-led attempt at a state level to enact tighter voting rules despite objections that the law only makes it harder for people—particularly the elderly and people of color—to vote.
The law restricts when ballot drop boxes can be used, who can collect ballots, and how many, mandating that drop boxes must be guarded and available only when elections offices and early voting sites are open. To prevent what Republicans call “ballot harvesting,” someone can only collect and return the ballots of immediate family and no more than two ballots from unrelated people.
The governor, however, failed not to acknowledge his theatrics on Thursday but rather celebrated “a wonderful bill signing for this great elections bill” that “millions” could watch, including Floridians.
His critics poured in, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor who announced he is seeking to challenge DeSantis: “This is the difference between @GovRonDeSantis and me. He locks out the public and caters to Fox News. When I was Governor, everyone was invited in — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. And when I’m Governor again, this will be a Florida for all,” Christ wrote.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, another potential candidate for governor, also blasted DeSantis for Thursday's show.
In recent months, DeSantis has pushed through an “anti-riot” bill, signed last month and clearly aimed at the Black Lives Matter movement that gained national prominence last summer. He will also soon sign into law a bill that would punish social media companies that DeSantis alleges censor conservative perspectives.
He doesn’t want you to vote, doesn’t want you to protest & doesn’t even want you to disagree with him. I’m not describing the leader of a communist country, I’m talking about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Voter advocates denounced the elections law as an open attempt to impede access to the polls so Republicans can retain an advantage.
“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,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
Along with the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and the Black Voters Matter Fund, the league assailed the new law in a federal lawsuit filed just after the signing. At the same time, a separate lawsuit filed in Tallahassee by the NAACP and Common Cause also states the law disproportionately targets people who are Black, Latino, and/or disabled.
The groups said that "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."