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'Stop This Bill': GOP-Led Florida Senate Sparks Alarm With Attack on Voting Rights

"We call on all legislators to break down—not erect—barriers to Floridians' fundamental right to vote."

Poll workers help a voter put their mail-in ballot in an official Miami-Dade County ballot drop box on August 11, 2020 in Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Poll workers help a voter put their mail-in ballot in an official Miami-Dade County ballot drop box on August 11, 2020 in Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Bolstering recent calls for federal legislation to protect and expand voting rights, the GOP-controlled Florida state Senate marked Confederate Memorial Day on Monday by advancing a bill that—similar to a law enacted by Georgia Republicans last month—critics are condemning as "Jim Crow 2.0."

"Instead of upholding the fundamental right to vote, certain Florida senators have decided to become accomplices to the nationwide voter suppression scheme underway by passing this undemocratic bill," said Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel of the ACLU of Florida, in a statement. "They are suppressing the right to vote by obstructing access to vote-by-mail."

Members of the upper chamber passed Senate Bill 90 in a 23-17 vote. The bill would limit ballot drop boxes, require residents to submit vote-by-mail requests for each election cycle, impose more identification requirements for absentee ballots, and criminalize giving food and water to voters waiting in line.

NBC News reports the Florida House is "working on a similar, but not identical, legislation. That measure, for example, was stripped of language limiting the handing out of food and water to voters, although the bill's sponsor suggested it could still bar the practice if the people doing so are trying to influence a voter's decision."

While states nationwide have seen an increase in absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic, Gross noted that "in 2020, about 4.8 million voters in Florida cast their ballots by mail. More than 1.5 million Floridians used a secure drop box to safely and conveniently return their ballot. Nothing about Florida's elections has shown a need for this law."

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"In fact, legislators should be encouraged that Floridians turned out in record numbers to participate in their democracy," she said. "It should prompt our legislators to seek ways to improve voter access by streamlining voter signature-matching procedures and ensuring uniformity across all counties, or encouraging more equitable polling places. Supervisors of elections have made it clear that this bill will create unnecessary hurdles to administering elections in Florida. Yet, certain senators are choosing to pass initiatives, like S.B. 90, that would make it harder for Floridians to vote."

"We call on Floridians to tell their state representatives to stop this bill," Gross added. "We call on corporations to demand legislators stand up for voting rights. We call on all legislators to break down—not erect—barriers to Floridians' fundamental right to vote. Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and the fundamental right upon which all our civil liberties rest. It must not be compromised."

According to NBC, during a debate before the vote Monday, Florida state Senate Democrats framed the legislation as a result of former President Donald Trump's "Big Lie" that the 2020 election was "stolen" from him as well as an continuation of the Jim Crow South, blasting the bill as "Georgia light."

"This bill is just a vindictive way of trying to punish people for an election that some people just didn't like at the national level," said state Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-6). "Not one indication of fraud, just a lot of folks decided that they were fed up and they wanted to vote."

During a committee hearing about the legislation last week, state Sen. Perry Thurston (D-33) said that "the people who are the descendants of the people of who were affected by Jim Crow, they know that during that time the people didn't say that these Jim Crow laws are designed to keep you in place."

"They didn't say these Jim Crow laws are designed to stop you from voting," Thurston continued. "Nobody came out and said poll taxes are designed to do this. When you look at that history, then you have to say well I'm going to analyze this legislation under those lights."

As Slate's Jeremy Stahl pointed out Monday:

The state is one of five in the country that still officially observes as a holiday the April 26, 1865 surrender at Bennett Place, North Carolina, of the last large field army of the Confederate forces that fought to destroy the United States and maintain slavery.

...It's Florida's long history of white supremacy—celebrated by Confederate Memorial Day, which state legislators tried and failed to eliminate earlier this year—that voting rights advocates say the measure hearkens back to.

Reporting on the bill last week, the New York Times noted that because the Florida Legislature's current session is nearly over, any legislation would have to be passed by both chambers before May 1.

The development in Florida comes amid a widespread attack on voting rights by Republicans in state legislatures across the country. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, this year GOP lawmakers in 47 states have introduced at least 361 bills with restrictive voting provisions.

Republicans' voter suppression efforts at the state level have fueled demands for the Democrat-controlled Congress to urgently pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—and to abolish the filibuster if Senate Republicans try to stand in the way.

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