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Why Florida Republicans' new voter-suppression law matters

Florida officials took great pride in how well their system of elections performed in 2020. State Republicans are imposing new voting restrictions anyway.


The substantive significance of Florida's new voter-suppression law is obviously more important than the optics surrounding the bill signing, but in this case, this morning's partisan ceremony was surprisingly relevant. The Miami Herald reported:

During a nationally televised event hosted by a fan club of former President Donald Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed into law contentious and wide-ranging changes to the state's voting laws.... Highlighting the sharply partisan debate surrounding Senate Bill 90, passed by state lawmakers last week, DeSantis barred most Florida reporters from attending the event held in West Palm Beach before the group Club 45 USA. Fox News was granted exclusive access.

In fact, one reporter from the South Florida Sun Sentinel showed up for the bill-signing event, only to be turned away because he didn't work for Fox News.

When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed his state's Republican voter-suppression law, he did so surrounded by Republicans, in front of a painting of a slave plantation. When a Black state legislator tried to enter the room to watch, she was arrested and taken to jail.

This morning wasn't much better.

Indeed, the south Florida event had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. While Florida GOP officials have spent weeks pretending that this measure had nothing to do with partisan politics, and that their sole focus was on "election integrity," DeSantis didn't bother with the pretense when signing the bill into law. The Republican governor signed a Republican bill, designed to help give Republicans an electoral advantage, at a Republican club, while granting exclusive access to a cable network aligned with Republican politics.

This has nothing to do with improving the state's system of elections, and everything to do with rigging the game. NBC News reported this morning on the measure's key provisions:

DeSantis' signature enacts a host of changes into Florida's election laws, including limits on where drop boxes could be placed, restrictions on who can drop off a voter's ballot, a mandate that drop boxes be staffed while open, new powers for partisan poll watchers as well as a requirement that voters must request to vote-by-mail more frequently.

The changes go into effect immediately and will be in place for next year's congressional and gubernatorial races in the Sunshine State.

Given the severity of the new voting restrictions, one might assume that Republicans were responding to widespread problems with the administration of the 2020 elections. That assumption would be spectacularly wrong: Florida officials took great pride in how well their system of elections performed in 2020, an election cycle that happened to be quite good for GOP candidates up and down the ballot.

But Republicans put new hurdles between voters and their democracy anyway, in part because they could, in part to give themselves an added electoral advantage, and in part because the party believes it must enact policies in line with the GOP's Trumpian conspiracy theories.

State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Fla.), who helped lead the push for the voting restrictions, was pressed last week for some kind of evidence of fraud that would justify new voting restrictions. "I don't know, but I'm sure it was going on," the conservative legislator responded. "Just the fact that they weren't caught doesn't necessarily mean that it's not happening."

By that reasoning, the fact that I haven't caught any vampire unicorns isn't necessarily proof that they're not out there somewhere.

There's no point in playing ridiculous games with reality here. Republicans don't have proof because it doesn't exist, and they don't believe they need proof because voter-suppression measures like these are about rigging democracy, not responding to actual system problems in need of a solution.

There is, however, a potential hiccup in the GOP's plan. The Washington Post reported this week that some in the party have privately warned that the new measure is so effective in undermining voting rights, it might actually affect the ability of Republican voters to participate, too. Florida GOP officials have spent decades carefully cultivating a robust program of absentee balloting, and in response to an imaginary problem, DeSantis & Co. have decided to interfere with the system many in Republican operatives were inclined to leave intact.

This raised so many red flags that some in the party made a ridiculous proposal:

One former state party official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to relay private conversations said some Republicans briefly discussed whether lawmakers could exempt those two groups from the provision requiring voters to request mail ballots every election cycle. "Key lawmakers said, 'You can't do that,' " the former official said. "It would raise equal protection problems."

Republicans will now have to live with the consequences -- if their partisan gambit survives legal scrutiny. Marc Elias has already announced litigation challenging the new law.

Watch this space.