Voting rights advocates preparing lawsuit over proposed changes to Florida election laws

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Revisions are still being made to two bills going through Florida’s legislature that would change election laws in the state.

Voting rights advocates opposed to the proposals are in the process of preparing a lawsuit in response.

Some have already traveled to Tallahassee to voice their concerns directly to lawmakers. They’re also traveling around the state, specifically to educate the Black community about the impact of the proposals, which they compare to Jim Crow laws.

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Gloria Lovell is an Orange County voter who says she delivers her absentee ballot in person every election, because she wants to make sure her vote is counted.

“Sign it in front of a clerk and then hand it to them,” Lovell says. “That’s how much I felt that my vote was important.”

Lovell’s distrust stems from all she’s seen in 81 years of efforts to keep Black people from voting.

With changes to Florida’s voting system up for debate, Lovell says she’s on the phone every day, spreading the word.

“We’re going back 50 to 60 years,” Lovell says.

READ: Morgan says Senate plan would silence voters and lead the state into litigation

The most controversial part of House Bill 7041 restricts who can turn in a person’s ballot at a dropbox and significantly enhances the types of personally identifying information that must be shown, specifically if the ballot is being dropped off by a neighbor or friend.

Attempting to give any item and interacting or attempting to interact with any voter within 150 feet of a polling site would be a misdemeanor under the House proposal.

The Senate Bill (SB-90) would require all voters to request vote-by-mail ballots more frequently, ban drop boxes, and allow only immediate family members to drop off vote-by-mail ballots.

“We showed up in record numbers. We mastered this ballot box pierce. We mastered the mail-ins,” says Bishop Derrick McRae of the Experience Christian Center. “They thought it was going to be a challenge because, customarily, African-Americans don’t trust the mailbox.”

In the 2020 election, Florida Democrats cast 683,487 more votes by mail than Republicans in the state. That’s a significant shift from 2018 when Republican mail-in ballots outnumbered Democrats by more than 50,000 ballots, and even more so than in 2016.

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Republicans are arguing the proposals don’t have anything to do with the change in that trend.

“This is all about making sure we have confidence in the voters, making it easiest as possible, and as hard as possible to cheat,” said Senator Joe Gruters (R - Sarasota).

Bishop McRae counters, “Let’s be honest, this is all about making sure those who are in power can remain.”

Both bills are working their way through legislative committees, meaning they could both undergo additional changes before a debate on the floor and a final vote.