In a move that could refuel fights about election fraud and voter suppression, Florida senators Tuesday will consider a proposal that would require local supervisors to scour voter rolls each year, add steps for voting by mail and create a state office to probe alleged election irregularities.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will take up the proposal, which emerged Monday as a 45-page rewrite of a bill (SB 524) filed by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine.
It came on the same day that a federal judge began a trial in challenges to an elections law that the Republican-dominated Legislature passed last year — and as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, state Cabinet members and lawmakers prepare to run for re-election in November.
It also came as Republicans across the country back additional elections restrictions because of what they allege is voter fraud and as Democrats argue that the changes add up to voter suppression.
Hutson, in a prepared statement, pointed to a need to “take a more frequent look at the rolls to make sure they are up to date” and to verify the identities of voters who cast ballots by mail.
“Confidence in the integrity of our elections is essential to maintaining a democratic form of government,” Hutson said. “Voters expect the rolls to be accurate, their personal information to be protected, and they want a clear process in place for investigating allegations of irregularities so that every legal vote is counted.”
The proposal includes:
— Requiring county elections supervisors to conduct reviews of voter-registration rolls at least once a year, which would be more frequent than the currently required every other year. The bill also would set additional requirements for supervisors about issues such as confirming addresses.
— Adding requirements to the vote-by-mail process, including requiring voters to write in a designated space the last four digits of their driver license numbers, state identification-card numbers or Social Security numbers. Supervisors would compare the numbers to registration information.
— Creating the “Office of Election Crimes and Security” in the Department of State. The office, in part, could initiate inquiries and conduct preliminary investigations into allegations of election-law violations and forward information to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. DeSantis proposed creation of such an office, though he wanted it to include sworn law-enforcement officers — which is not part of the Senate proposal.
— Increasing criminal penalties from first-degree misdemeanors to third-degree felonies for certain elections offenses, including what has become known as ballot “harvesting.” That practice can involve collecting vote-by-mail ballots from multiple people.
The law passed last year focused heavily on making it harder to vote by mail, after Democrats outdistanced Republicans in mail-in voting during the 2020 elections. Among other things, the new law placed new restrictions on drop boxes, which people have used to drop off mail-in ballots.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Monday started a trial in challenges brought by groups such as the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and Disability Rights Florida. The plaintiffs maintain that the law was intended to make it harder for Black and Hispanic residents to vote, while Republicans contend the changes were needed to ensure election integrity.