A recipe for disaster for voting by mail in Florida

ANOTHER VIEW: ORLANDO SUN SENTINEL, Feb 14,2022.

How many envelopes does it take to return a mail ballot in Florida?

Four, according to the Senate’s latest scheme to frustrate the will of Floridians who want to vote by mail.

A secrecy envelope. A certificate envelope. A return mailing envelope. All tucked inside a fourth main envelope. Now throw in confusing and complicated new requirements to be imposed on voters under the guise of preventing fraud, after the most orderly election in Florida’s history, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Five Republicans on the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted for this deliberately clumsy and cumbersome system, and a similar plan is being cooked up in the Florida House, despite no evidence of irregularities in voting by mail, which was the preferred method of voting by nearly 5 million Floridians in the 2020 statewide election. The three Democrats on the committee voted against.

Nearly half those 2020 mail ballots, or 2.2 million, were cast by Democrats, compared to 1.5 million cast by Republicans, and that’s what this latest politically motivated attack is about. Simply put, too many Democrats like to vote by mail in Florida.

Inside one of those envelopes, under the proposed changes, every vote-by-mail voter would have to write down their driver’s license number, state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. Yes, in an age of rampant identity theft, the state of Florida would force people to send their unique personal identifiers through the mail, or else their vote won’t count.

As Senate Bill 524 says: “A vote-by-mail ballot will be considered illegal and not be counted if the number provided does not match a number in the supervisor’s records.”

What number in the supervisor’s records? you ask.

A sweeping overhaul the Legislature passed last year, SB 90, the law that also cracks down on the use of drop boxes, also requires the driver’s license number or last four digits of the social security number to be a part of every voter’s file.

That information is not on file for a lot of older voters because it wasn’t required at the time they first registered to vote. They have voted for decades without problems, but now all of a sudden, they have to verify their identity again.

As mail ballot voters sort out which envelope is which, they also would be required to provide one of those numbers for their votes to count. They cannot be off by even a single digit, lest they risk their ballot being tossed out. Across the state, election supervisors are deeply worried about how badly this can turn out, and some privately tell us they fear the Legislature is deliberately setting up the system for failure.

It’s frightening, and it’s unnecessary.

“A recipe for disaster” is what one supervisor predicts will happen if the provision becomes law.

That dire warning comes from Lake County’s Alan Hays, a former Republican senator, who told senators he sent notices to about 11,000 voters reminding them to provide the numbers, but only about half responded, in a heavily Republican county just north of the I-4 corridor in Central Florida.

This proposed change would take effect Jan. 1, 2024, just before a statewide presidential preference primary that surely will attract DeSantis’ attention.

The broader Republican strategy here is obvious, and it’s to undermine faith in democracy by creating a false narrative that voting by mail is not trustworthy, even though multiple safeguards are in place, including signature verification requirements, to protect the legitimacy of the count.

What has captured more attention in Senate Bill 524 is another case of outrageous overreach.

It’s the creation, at the insistence of Gov. Ron DeSantis, of an Office of Election Crimes and Security in the Department of State, staffed by non-sworn investigators, to probe “irregularities” regarding elections and field complaints to a hotline.

In addition, a separate cadre of sworn and armed agents in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, appointed by DeSantis, would investigate election crimes.

Pressed by senators, the bill sponsor could not really define what “election irregularities” are. Does it include knocking down an opponent’s signs? Lying on a direct mail piece? Democrats fear, as all voters should, that the elections police force could engage in partisan witch hunts and intimidate voters.

But four envelopes to submit one ballot? The Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes is a lot simpler.

 Image Credits: Photo by Chris Woods from FreeImages.com

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