TALLAHASSEE — Senate Republicans are revamping a controversial elections bill, including scaling back proposed changes to mail-in voting.
Sponsor Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, filed a lengthy amendment Tuesday, as the Senate Appropriations Committee prepares to take up the bill (SB 524) on Thursday. The bill has drawn heavy attention and came after lawmakers last year made changes to the vote-by-mail process that have been challenged in federal court.
The amendment would keep one of the highest-profile parts of the bill — creating a state Office of Election Crimes and Security to investigate election irregularities. Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed for creation of the office.
“Confidence in the integrity of our elections is essential to maintaining a democratic form of government,” Hutson said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “This amendment addresses the important concerns outlined at the last (Senate) committee stop, while maintaining key components of the bill that create a framework, with dedicated resources, for investigating allegations of elections fraud in a manner that is much more streamlined than current law.”
One significant change in the amendment would remove a proposal to require people to use an additional envelope for mail-in ballots and include the last four digits of their driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, or state identification numbers – whichever number is on file with the election supervisor’s office.
The amendment instead would direct the secretary of state to work on a plan to “prescribe the use of a Florida driver license number, Florida identification card number, Social Security number, or any part thereof to confirm the identity of each elector returning a vote-by-mail ballot.” The secretary of state would have to submit the plan by Jan. 1.
“The changes (in the earlier version of the bill) weren’t designed to be in place until 2024, so we have plenty of time for the Department (of State) to report back on the feasibility, development and implementation of a plan that would better protect vote-by-mail balloting to ensure election integrity, while protect voters from identity theft,” Hutson said in the statement.
The amendment also would add issues to the bill, including a proposal to deal with circumstances in which people working for voter-registration organizations change voters’ party affiliations without consent. The amendment would impose fines of $1,000 against the organizations for each registration changed.
Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, pushed for the addition to the bill, at least in part, because she said elderly residents in Miami-Dade County have had their registrations changed without giving consent.
“The severity of these reports coming in from all across Florida, of individuals having their party changed is not a partisan issue and I would like to thank the bill sponsor for adding in this language,” Taddeo said in a statement Tuesday night. “It is imperative that we protect our citizens, protect our democracy and do whatever we must to make sure people are confident in our electoral process.”