Florida State Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer: "So many provisions in this bill don't have any necessity behind them."

Controversial GOP voting restrictions bill clears Florida Senate panel; heads to floor

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By
Norine Dworkin

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

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Florida State Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer: "So many provisions in this bill don't have any necessity behind them."

The controversial election measure SB 90 cleared one of its last hurdles early Tuesday morning as the Florida Senate Rules Committee voted largely along party lines to approve it 10-7. A single Republican, Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas), voted with the committee’s six Democrats against the bill.


It now heads to the Senate floor for a final vote.


Much of the “robust and lengthy debate” on the bill, as Rules Committee Chairperson Kathleen Passidomo (R-Collier, Lee, Hendry) described it, had already taken place during the panel’s session last week. Passidomo resumed debate on the bill Tuesday.


Sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Lake, Marion), SB 90:


  • Limits vote-by-mail ballot requests to one election cycle (currently it’s two)

  • Increases identification requirements for receiving a mail-in ballot (driver’s license, Florida ID or the last four digits of social security number)

  • Curtails who may drop off ballots to “immediate family” only, along with an affidavit attesting to that

  • Decreases access to ballot drop boxes

  • Mandates reliance on ink signatures over digital signatures

  • Rolls back public records exemptions put in place to prevent targeted “challenge campaigns” to stifle groups of voters, such as felons.


SB 90 is one of the more than 200 election-related bills that have cropped up across the nation in response to Republicans’ baseless claims of election fraud. Proponents maintain these bills make elections more secure; critics claim the bills actually make it harder for people, particularly people of color, to vote.


Baxley said he understood that there was a “fear we’re trying to take away the right of people to vote,” but said that was “not the motivation of this bill.” He added that he was in favor of “secure, fair and even-handed elections.”


“I can look you in the eye and tell you that our motivation is to protect ballot boxes and prevent ballots inside from being destroyed — any ballot, Republican or Democrat,” he told the Rules Committee.


Commenting on what he called the “inevitable march toward passage of this bill,” Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer (D-Broward) said he couldn’t support SB 90 in its current form but added that it was still possible to make changes before the floor vote to prevent the disenfranchisement he anticipates will occur if the bill passes as is.


Farmer pointed to the “record use” of Florida’s vote-by-mail system in the November general election, noting that 2.2 million Floridians had voted by mail.


“For the first time ever Democrats outpaced their counterparts in the vote-by-mail process, and that has led many to ask us why are we undoing this?” Farmer said. “There has certainly been no fraud, no abuse or untoward practices with regard to voting by mail. Our governor called this the most transparent and efficient election we’ve had in the state of Florida. He held this up as a model for other states. We just feel that so many of the provisions in this bill don’t have any necessity behind them.


“I hope our better angels will guide us,” Farmer continued. “I hope we can continue to try to improve upon this bill or diminish the process of disenfranchisement of voters because at the end of the day that should be of paramount importance to us as a body, making sure that the right to vote is promoted and encouraged whenever and wherever possible.”


Just before debate on the bill closed, Brandes, the lone Republican dissenter on the panel, said he wanted it on the record that Republican supervisors of elections do not support SB 90.


“I want to make sure Floridians understand that the Republicans that have run for office to represent a fair election process in the state of Florida, to my knowledge, not one Republican supervisor of elections has stood up and said they support this piece of legislation, and therefore I will not support it.”

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