Election supervisors oppose bill to require yearly mail-in voting ballot requests

Editor’s note: This blatant voter suppression bill bill made it out of committee. Tell our Sen. Albritton and/or Gruters to vote against it!

  • State Senator Joe Gruters (District 23) 1-850-487-5023
  • State Senator Ben Albritton  (District 26) 1- 850-487-5026

By Valerie Crowder, WFSU, published February 15, 2021

Elections supervisors have been speaking out against a proposal to require voters to request absentee ballots every calendar year, instead of once every two general election cycles.

“To move that to be a calendar year request, I just think that would be potentially detrimental to our military voters,” said Okaloosa County Elections Supervisor Paul Lux. “Getting the word out to the voter will be a concern.”

State Senate Bill 90 would require voters to request an absentee ballot every calendar year during which they plan to vote by mail. State Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) said he filed the bill to reduce the risk of ballots being sent to the wrong address.

Right now, voters’ one-time request for a mail-in ballot applies to every election held within two general election cycles, covering the gubernatorial and presidential elections. They may also choose to receive an absentee ballot for only certain elections within that time frame.

The legislation would apply to all elections, including local races. Municipal elections across the state take place throughout the year. In many counties, they’re scheduled in the spring. And special elections sometimes occur in January.

Members of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee discussed the measure on Tuesday and voted to approve it in a partisan vote.

Supervisors of Elections have expressed concern that the proposal would force them to spend a lot of money notifying voters to renew their absentee ballot requests every year. They say it will also place an unnecessary burden on those who typically vote by mail.

Military voters and their families are likely to cast absentee ballots because they’re often not stationed where they’re registered to vote on Election Day.

In Okaloosa County, roughly 30,000 of the county’s registered voters are military service members and their families. That’s about 1/5 of the county’s approximately 150,000 registered voters, Lux said.

Lux says the proposed legislation could create a problem for those voters because they’d have to renew their request for an absentee ballot every calendar year. “That is probably my biggest concern.”

The county is home to Eglin Air Force Base, which houses Army and Navy training units and an F-35 program that trains Navy and Marine Corps pilots. The county also has a Coast Guard auxiliary unit.

“All five service branches of our military reside here in my county, and they serve all across the globe,” Lux said. “I’ve got a map in my office with pins where I have voters all across the world.”

Leon County’s Elections Supervisor Mark Early has also voiced opposition to the proposal, citing concerns about processing requests in time for elections that take place early in the year.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer agrees that requiring yearly absentee ballot requests places an unnecessary burden on voters. “That’s a little bit onerous on our military and older population that does in fact vote by mail a lot,” Latimer said.

The bill would erase all current requests for an absentee ballot in the 2022 elections. Those voters would need to then resubmit a request for a vote-by-mail ballot to cast in next year’s primary and general elections.

“It’s going to cause all the supervisors to do a tremendous voter education push,” said Latimer, who’s also the president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections. “In larger counties like mine it’s going to cost a couple hundred thousand dollars to get the word out to people that they’re going to need to re-up this registration or this request for vote by mail every year.”

Latimer says state lawmakers tried this before in 2010 when they passed a law that forced voters to re-apply for a mail-in ballot every year. But lawmakers later extended the time to request an absentee ballot to once every two general election cycles. He says the bill is unnecessary because safeguards already exist to prevent people from fraudulently casting an absentee ballot as a voter who’s moved.

“They would’ve had to sign it, and the signature would’ve had to match when they sent it back,” Latimer said. “Shortening the length of time you’ve got a request on file is not going to improve anything.”

Image Credits: Darylann Elmi/Adobe Stock