Florida House committee weighs new rules for voting by mail

(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

A Florida House committee takes up its own effort to rewrite vote-by-mail rules Monday, as Republicans push to enhance "ballot security" — despite no evidence of widespread problems — while Democrats and voter rights advocates say the election-related proposals before lawmakers would be costly and will make it harder for some Floridians to vote.

The election bill is one of several high-profile measures coming before Florida lawmakers in the coming days, as they hunker down for some of the heaviest lifting yet during their two-month session — including work on rewriting parts of the state’s election laws, providing protections for businesses against COVID-related lawsuits and enacting additional ways to punish demonstrators who turn violent.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans have made those measures top priorities.

A measure scheduled to be heard by the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee on Monday would require 24-hour monitoring of ballot drop boxes — either by guards, elections officials during work hours or by surveillance cameras during off hours — and require voters to provide identification, such as their Social Security numbers, to update registration information.

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The Senate is considering its own changes to how vote-by-mail ballots are handled, including the banning of drop boxes.

Both versions would also narrow the time period covered by a single application for an absentee ballot from two general elections cycles to just one — and wipe out the advantage Democrats now have over Republicans in the number of absentee voters.

That provision has come under attack by Democrats who charge that Republicans are trying to wipe the slate clean after Democrats overtook the GOP in the vote-by-mail race.

Another top priority for DeSantis and his legislative allies is shielding most businesses from being sued because of the pandemic — and could be on the brink of advancing to the governor’s desk.

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In the coming week, the House floor will take up a measure already passed by the Senate — but it’s unclear how the House will handle that proposal. It could decide to abandon its own two-pronged approach, which carves out a separate bill for health care providers, and instead adopt the single Senate bill to address what proponents fear could be a proliferation of frivolous COVID-related lawsuits.

Another controversial measure the House is taking up is the so-called anti-riot bill, which comes up this week for final debate in the chamber.

So far, the Senate has not made the measure a priority, but discussion could be fast-tracked once the House gives final passage to a bill that opponents say is an attack on the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.