Election

GOP Bill Curbing Vote-by-Mail Would Affect 404,000 Miami-Dade Voters

Voters wait in line to drop off their vote-by-mail ballots at Miami-Dade's election headquarters on October 14, 2020.
Voters wait in line to drop off their vote-by-mail ballots at Miami-Dade's election headquarters on October 14, 2020. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty
Last month, state lawmakers on the Florida Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted in favor of a Republican bill that would erode the state's practices for vote-by-mail.

Currently, Florida voters who request mail-in ballots continue to receive them for two general election cycles — meaning anyone who requested one in 2020 would continue to be mailed a ballot until 2022. But under the proposed Senate Bill 90, which has not yet been passed by the full senate, requests for mail-in ballots would be active for just one general election cycle.

Yesterday, Miami-Dade's supervisor of elections, Christina White, issued a memo outlining exactly how many of the county's voters would be affected if the bill passes. According to White, her office would have to purge every mail-in ballot request on July 1 — a change that would affect more than 404,000 of the county's 1.5 million registered voters.

White, who serves in a nonpartisan position, said the bill "places an unnecessary burden" on voters to make new requests for vote-by-mail ballots, adding that it could disenfranchise some of the county's most vulnerable populations.

"Voters who do not re-enroll may lose their opportunity to vote. The elderly, voters with disabilities, and our overseas military would be most affected, with potential limited access to re-enroll," White wrote in the memo, which was addressed to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. (A copy of the memo is embedded at the bottom of this post.)

Voters in Hialeah, Homestead, Miami, Miami Beach, and Virginia Gardens would be the most immediately affected because those cities have local elections scheduled this fall. According to White, 107,000 voters in those cities are supposed to receive a mail-in ballot for those elections, but they would have to make a new request after July 1 if the bill passes.

Owing to the pandemic, a record 4.8 million Floridians voted by mail in the November election. That total included more than 2.1 million Democrats and over 1.5 million Republicans, according to state data.

Although Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has claimed Florida "held the smoothest, most successful election of any state," he said the state should pass new measures, not "rest on our laurels."

"Only voters who request a ballot should receive a ballot," he stated in a press release. "Vote-by-mail requests must be made each election year."
click to enlarge State Sen. Dennis Baxley - PHOTO VIA FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
State Sen. Dennis Baxley
Senate Bill 90 is sponsored by state Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican representing voters in the Ocala area in Central Florida. In response to criticism from Democrats that the bill is a voter-suppression tactic, Baxley said it is "not my objective to prevent people from voting" and that he merely wants to uphold the integrity of Florida's elections.

For instance, Baxley suggested, there could be an opportunity for fraud when voters move from one home to another.

"I know people who have moved three or four times in two years, and if they're not updating [their addresses], they're not getting the right ballot.... It's just opening it to the opportunity for something to go wrong," he said, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Elections officials countered that the post office returns those ballots when voters move and that signature verification helps ensure no one casts a ballot in someone else's name.

White, the supervisor of elections for Miami-Dade, said she strongly opposes any efforts to restrict vote-by-mail, especially while the pandemic continues to play out.

"We should be making it easier, not more difficult, for voters to vote from the safety of their homes, particularly during the COVID pandemic," her memo states. "This bill rolls back a law that has been in place for a decade without cause, at a time when it would have grave impacts on voting accessibility."
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.