Editor’s note: Tell Joe that you oppose SB 90. Vote NO on voter suppression!
As Republican activists across the country work to enact new voting rules being touted by supporters as election integrity measures and slammed by critics as voter suppression, Sarasota lawmaker Joe Gruters is square in the middle of the nationwide battle.
Gruters attracted attention last week as the only lawmaker on the Florida Senate’s Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee to speak in favor of a controversial election bill that bans mail ballot drop boxes and changes the rules for mail ballot requests.
The bill advanced, but Republican lawmakers on the committee weren’t jumping up to sing its praises.
Florida ran a smooth election in 2020, so it is hard to justify big changes.
Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays, known as one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate when he served in the Legislature, slammed the legislation, saying it “played havoc with the lives of 1.5 million Floridians” who used mail ballot drop boxes in 2020.
Yet Gruters was quick to defend the bill as an effort to “tighten the screws” and “make sure that we protect the integrity of the system.” It’s a pitch he’s making on a national level as the chair of the Republican National Committee’s new Election Integrity Committee.
Gruters, who also chairs the Florida GOP and was co-chair of former president Donald Trump’s Florida campaign in 2016, said the Election Integrity Committee will help “get to the bottom of what happened in 2020 and make sure we get it right in 2022.”
“The 2020 cycle, it’s an election that left a lot of doubts and it’s about restoring the confidence of the voters,” Gruters added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on the left or right, it’s important that we have integrity in the system.”
But the fact that election changes are being contemplated in Florida, a state that didn’t have any problems in 2020 and one that Trump won by a wide margin, adds to questions about whether the changes being pitched by Republican activists are more about gaining an advantage on Election Day than securing the vote.
For every Trump supporter who believes the former president’s baseless claims about election fraud in 2020, claims that repeatedly were dismissed by courts, there are other voters who view the GOP’s election integrity push as a naked power grab, aimed not at rooting out fraud but keeping legitimate voters from casting ballots.
Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results contributed to a pro-Trump mob overrunning the U.S. Capitol in January in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote count.
“The mob was fed lies,” said Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. “They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.”
The mob’s effort to stop the peaceful transfer of power was a major attack on the country’s Democratic institutions. Continuing to push Trump’s election fraud claims in order to overhaul voting rules also is viewed by many as harmful to democracy.
But Gruters said “what’s bad for the country is to have the uncertainty that was created after the 2020 cycle, and have it continue on.”
“We have to restore voters’ confidence,” he added.
Gruters said the RNC Election Integrity Committee has been holding regular meetings and has been coordinating with groups such as the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, along with conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation.
The committee is looking at everything from voting technology to poll watching activities and model voting legislation.
“It goes back to the swing states and making sure we get the right legislation passed ultimately,” Gruters said.
The Brennan Center for Justice has tallied 253 bills being advanced in 43 states that restrict access to voting. The Brennan Center calls the bills “a backlash to historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election, and grounded in a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities.”
Gruter says the changes are just common sense.
“I think it’s insulting to voters when they say some of these are suppression techniques,” he said. “The stuff that we’re asking for, it’s not hard and it’s not suppression. It’s not meant to do anything other than tighten the system.”