As It Happens

Florida voting restrictions will target people of colour, says state Democrat

Florida is the latest Republican-controlled state to approve restrictions on things like mail-in ballots and drop boxes. The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has signaled his support and is expected to sign it. 

Republicans take aim at mail-in ballots, where Democrats excelled in 2020 election

Democratic State Rep. Angie Nixon, seen here in the back left holding a microphone, says the new voting restrictions passed by Florida Republicans is all about 'suppressing black and brown people.' (Florida House of Representatives)

Story Transcript

The only reason Florida Republicans passed sweeping new voter restrictions is to suppress people of colour, says Democratic State Rep. Angie Nixon. 

"This is just all about suppressing Black and brown people and trying to strip their power away," Nixon, a Black state representative for Jacksonville, Fla., told As It Happens host Carol Off.

On Thursday, Florida became the latest Republican-controlled state to approve restrictions on things like mail-in ballots and drop boxes. The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has signaled his support and is expected to sign it. 

Republicans say that this move was needed to guard against voter fraud, even though DeSantis previously boasted that "Florida had the most transparent and efficient election than any place in the country in 2020." 

Bill targets voters of colour, Nixon says

Many Republican lawmakers across the U.S. have embraced former president Donald Trump's claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that the practice of mail-in voting is to blame. Trump and his family voted by mail for the June 2020 Florida primary.  

Florida saw a spike in mail-in ballots during the last election, in a large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Historically, Florida Republicans had the upper hand on voting by mail, but Florida Democrats outvoted Republicans by 680,000 absentee ballots last fall. 

Florida Rep. Tracie Davis, left foreground, is surrounded by supporters as she speaks at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., about the new voting restrictions. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

Much of the bill focuses on mail-in ballots and how they are collected and returned. Nixon says that isn't a coincidence. 

"Republicans passed these laws because voters of colour, Black people, voted in record numbers in 2020," Nixon said. 

Republicans, however, have defended the bill.

"I believe that every legal vote should count," Travis Hutson, a Republican senator from Northeast Florida, told the New York Times. "I believe one fraudulent vote is one too many. And I'm trying to protect the sanctity of our elections."

If the bill is passed into law, people will only be able to bring their ballots to drop boxes when early voting sites are open, something Nixon says defeats the purpose completely. 

"The purpose of us having those drop boxes in the first place was to allow people … who worked during early voting hours to drop off those ballots," she said. 

Republicans passed these laws because voters of colour, Black people voted in record numbers in 2020.-  Angie Nixon, Florida state representative

The ballot boxes would have to be supervised by election officials. If an official does not follow these rules, they could face a $25,000 US fine. 

The bill also places a two-ballot limit on how many mail-in ballots someone can pick up from voters who otherwise could not make it to the drop boxes, and require voters to request absentee ballots, as opposed to automatically having the ballot mailed to their home.  

Another provision in the bill would roll back a rule that requires an election if someone resigns and runs for a different election. Under this new bill, the governor would be able to appoint a replacement without an election. Nixon called this measure "egregious."

Some measures in the bill were originally much more severe, including an outright ban on ballot boxes and a requirement to present identification when dropping off those ballots. 

The Florida bill follows similar legislation in states like Texas and Georgia. President Joe Biden described the bills as "Jim Crow in the 21st century." In Georgia, which saw long lines during the general election, handing out water or food to voters in line is now forbidden. 

Nixon says it was "disheartening" watching similar debates take place in the Florida legislature, just weeks after a so-called anti-riot bill was approved

That bill, which was recently signed by the governor, enhances crimes committed during a riot or violent protest. It also makes it a second-degree felony to destroy or demolish a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure or other object that commemorates historical people or events. 

But opponents say it is a racist reaction to anti-Black demonstrations that were sparked by the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. 

'This will bite them in the wazoo'

Nixon says this is just more proof that Republicans fear losing power. 

"You're so fearful that we're going to treat you the same way that you've treated people of colour and low-income people for hundreds of years," she said. 

And while she says this will all make it harder for Democrats to vote, it will also affect older Republicans who have historically voted by mail.

"What goes around comes around, and I think this will bite them in the wazoo," Nixon said.  

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Katie Geleff. 

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