Today at 3:30pm, the Florida Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections will consider a committee substitute to SB 524, a package of changes to election laws. Livestream of the meeting should be available here.
Statement of Sylvia Albert, Common Cause Director of Voting and Elections
It’s a new legislative year – and there’s a new package of election law changes pending in the Legislature.
The substitute dropped yesterday would make changes to what seems like every facet of election law, at the same time elections supervisors are trying to implement all the changes made last year. In addition, the supervisors need to prepare for tasks from redistricting and reprecincting.
Election administration should be all about standard, planned, predictable processes. Florida’s elections supervisors are facing enough challenges trying to run elections during a pandemic – why is this Legislature adding confusion to the mix?
Just one example: the bill would require voters to include personal identification information along with their ballots. That means a third envelope needs to be included in the mail ballot package, to protect the privacy of voters’ information. That extra envelope will add significantly to the counties’ elections costs – an amount that the bill’s “Fiscal Impact Statement” acknowledges but does not quantify.
It also adds an extra layer of complexity for third-party vendors, creating another point of possible failure – and we know that third-party vendors make mistakes. Some Detroit voters got ballot applications with a Texas return address. Some Franklin County, Ohio voters received the wrong ballots. A vendor for Georgia’s absentee ballots sent a white piece of paper instead of the secrecy envelope.
And when vendors make mistakes, election administrators have to find a way to fix them.
The bill proposes other changes that will add to supervisors’ workloads – various mailings, processing information from the Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, processing information from circuit courts – again, all things that will have a “fiscal impact” that has not been quantified.
And again: elections administrators would have to implement all these changes at the very same time they are dealing with changes made by the law passed last year, as well as new district maps that have yet to be approved.
After the 2020 elections, Governor DeSantis was so proud of Florida’s elections that he urged the rest of the country to use them as a model.
Why would this Legislature want to seed Florida’s elections systems with chaos and confusion?
The bill would also create an entirely new bureaucracy – the Office of Election Crimes & Security – in addition to existing law enforcement agencies that already investigate violations of Florida election laws.
The “Fiscal Impact Statement” doesn’t quantify the cost of that proposal, either. Governor DeSantis has proposed spending $5.7 million and hiring more than 50 new state employees – money that could be spent, instead, on strengthening Florida’s elections system and supporting local elections offices.
The substitute was dropped almost exactly 24 hours before the committee will act on it – which may indicate how fast it will move through the legislative process. Rushed legislation rarely makes for good public policy. We will be watching this bill closely.