During the 2020 general election, nearly six million Floridians voted by mail. And it’s no surprise why: Voting by mail is safe and convenient.
The system works, and it works especially well here in Pinellas County. But Senate Bill 90, introduced by Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), would make voting by mail harder for those who rely on it – especially seniors, people with disabilities and people with limited transportation options.
SB 90 would wipe out all vote-by-mail requests currently on file and require all voters to sign up again, even voters who have previously asked to receive mail ballots through 2022. Even with expensive public education efforts, many seniors and other voters who face access barriers may find themselves waiting next year for a mail ballot that will never come.
SB 90 will also make it harder to request a mail ballot. Registered voters would now be required to provide their driver license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number just to sign up for a mail ballot. This poses a big problem for voters who don’t have a valid driver license, or who guard their Social Security number closely.
SB 90 then aims to make it harder for voters to return their mail ballots by eliminating ballot drop boxes. In Pinellas County, every voter lived within three miles of a secure ballot drop box for the 2020 general election, including at nearly all public libraries. This made drop boxes particularly safe and convenient, especially for people who have difficulty with transportation or mobility. If SB 90 passes, the only options to return a mail ballot would be traveling miles to bring it to one of the three elections offices in the county, or mailing it early enough to ensure the U.S. Postal Service can get it there on time.
Perhaps most damaging for seniors, voters would face new restrictions on who can return their signed-and-sealed mail ballots. Currently, you can ask anyone to return your mail ballot on your behalf, but SB90 would limit that to “immediate family.” That means voters who rely on caretakers, extended family, friends, neighbors or even a domestic partner would no longer be able to ask these trusted people to return their mail ballots for them. Voters who already face disproportionate barriers to voting would find it even harder to vote.
For his part, Sen. Baxley has been unable to provide evidence as to why any of these additional restrictions are necessary. His bill is, in the words of League of Women Voters Florida President Patti Brigham, “a solution in search of a problem.”
Not only are these changes unnecessary, they also don’t come cheap. It will cost election officials an estimated $14-16 million to make sure voters know that the rules have changed.
Let’s be clear: This bill places new burdens on voters, but does not fix any known problems with the vote-by-mail system. In fact, 66 of Florida’s Supervisors of Elections, both Republicans and Democrats, are opposed to it.
If you want voting by mail to continue to work well for us, contact your state senator today and tell them to vote NO on SB 90.
Linsey Grove is the President of the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area (LWVSPA). The League of Women Voters has been registering, educating, and advocating for voters in Pinellas County for over 80 years. You can contact the LWVSPA Voter Services Team at firstname.lastname@example.org