Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
Lawmakers should not make it harder to vote (again)
The don’t-give-water-to-hot-andthirsty-voters crew is hard at work again, and though common sense seems to have secured a small victory for voting rights, no one should breathe easily until Tallahassee lawmakers go home.
In a report to the Florida Legislature, Secretary of State Cord Byrd recommends against requiring personal voter information to be marked on the outside of a mail ballot envelope.
Yes. Someone thought putting a partial Social Security number or full driver’s license number on a piece of paper next to your signature and handing it over to a stranger was a really good way to reduce voter fraud.
Elections supervisors didn’t. Byrd agreed, to his credit.
But in his legislative report, the secretary of state did encourage lawmakers to ban voters from requesting mail ballots by phone.
Ballot requests not the issue
Look closely at this recommendation and you can find the “tell,” the bad faith at the heart of Florida’s wholesale assault on voting by mail.
First, many Florida voters use the telephone to request mail ballots, which they now must request every two years. Even Gov. Ron DeSantis’ election police squad, which has yet to meet a voter who didn’t deserve to be hauled off in handcuffs, has not produced evidence of fraud linked to those requests.
Second, whether a ballot is mailed to a voter is not a security issue. The security issue is whether the ballot is valid and properly counted or rejected when it is returned.
That’s the tell. This proposal adds no security. It just keeps ballots from getting to voters in the first place. Ensuring that some unknown number of legitimate voters will not be able to get a ballot does not pass the security-measure sniff test.
Voting in a democracy should not be this hard in Florida or anywhere else. In a healthy democracy, lawmakers would be giving free bottled water to voters lining up at precincts, not fighting in court to make sure no one does. A state committed to free and fair elections would not make it harder for a voter to ask to be able to vote.
Unless, of course, the people making it harder to vote are worried about something other than democracy.
Jobs, for instance. Their own.
A history of election glitches
Consider: From 2006 through mid-2015, Florida’s statewide system for maintaining voter registration records was criticized in Auditor General reports for software security glitches, including unauthorized access to voters’ personal information. In 2018, Florida’s secretary of state balked at free money from Washington to beef up election security until then-Gov. Rick Scott forced him to request it. In 2016, USA Today reported, the state’s election system was clearly not working for all Florida voters: Seven of every 10 mail votes tossed for mismatched signatures that year were in heavily Hispanic counties.
All of this and more, yet state lawmakers didn’t take to their election-integrity fainting couches until Democratic voters topped the number of Republicans using vote-by-mail, Biden won the White House and a party out of power looked like it might get power again.
Given that rich history of ignoring actual security problems, no one should automatically trust Tallahassee’s election-integrity motivations.
Fortunately, there is a group in Florida that by and large does understand election integrity issues: Local election supervisors.
Florida elections should have been a disaster in 2020. There was plenty of pandemic and not enough of almost everything else. Not enough time to educate millions of voters new to mail voting. Not enough money for enough equipment to process the expected avalanche of mail ballots. Not even enough hand sanitizer.
If it isn’t broke …
But the supervisors pulled it off. Instead of the ballot-scanning debacle that marred Georgia’s 2020 primaries, equipment worked. Instead of Pennsylvania’s weekslong wait for results, Florida election totals were quickly tallied.
Crucially, instead of huge numbers of ballots rejected because voters new to vote-by-mail failed to cross a T or dot an I, the statewide mail ballot rejection rate averaged just three tenths of one percent, federal elections data shows. It was a victory for voters and elections supervisors alike.
But too often in Florida, repo men get more respect than people running elections.
State lawmakers issued a praise — “Florida was a model for the nation ... something we can all take pride in,” said then-Senate President Wilton Simpson — and in the same breath Simpson, DeSantis and others passed laws certain to gum up the system and make the work of elections supervisors, and the ability of millions to get their vote counted, much harder.
There’s no guarantee lawmakers will end the 2023 session without making it harder still, including dismissing Byrd’s recommendation that for now, sensitive and easily compromised personal information does not need to be made a mandatory part of mail ballots.
It would be surprising if lawmakers ignore Byrd. He’s the governor’s point man on election management, and if the governor is good with his recommendations, the Legislature is more likely than not to accept them, too.
But this is Florida, pointed out one skeptical elections supervisor, “and I have seen too many legislative sessions.”
The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at email@example.com.