This piece was updated to reflect the two lawsuits filed after Senate Bill 7050’s enactment on May 24, 2023.
In 2021, Florida was one of several Republican-controlled states that passed omnibus voter suppression laws. Senate Bill 90, among other provisions, placed restrictions on mail-in voting, drop boxes and voter registration. But it turns out S.B. 90 wasn’t enough for Florida Republicans. Today, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed another omnibus elections bill: Senate Bill 7050. While S.B. 7050 contains many technical changes to Florida’s Election Code, many provisions could directly harm voters.
The most controversial changes target third-party voter registration.
Many people, especially minority voters, are first registered to vote through the assistance of third-party voter registration organizations. In Florida, people of color are five times more likely to rely on third-party organizations than white people. S.B. 90 in 2021 and another bill in 2022 both imposed new restrictions on these organizations.
S.B. 7050 builds on these earlier restrictions to impose new requirements and fines on third-party voter registration organizations. The law:
- Requires organizations to reregister for every single election cycle,
- Prohibits prefilled information on registration applications,
- Shortens the amount of time organizations have to return registration applications from 14 days to 10 and increases the fine associated with late delivery,
- Bans noncitizens and individuals with certain felony convictions from handling voter registration applications and imposes fines for each violation of this requirement and
- Increases the total aggregate fine that an organization can be levied in each calendar year from $50,000 to $250,000.
Voting rights advocates sent a letter to the Florida Legislature expressing concern over these provisions. They argue that the measures will “create an overwhelming chilling effect, and groups will have to decide between risking fines of magnitude they cannot shoulder, or simply cease undertaking voter registration activities altogether.” Yet the Legislature ignored these concerns and passed the bill anyway.
S.B. 7050 adds more restrictions on mail-in voting.
While civil rights groups have focused on the third party organization restrictions, the law also adds new restrictions to mail-in voting. The changes include:
- Shortening the deadline to request a from the 10th day before Election Day to the 12th day,
- Allowing voters to personally pick up a mail-in ballot only if they are unable to go to an early voting location or their assigned Election Day polling place,
- Banning anyone who is not an immediate family member from requesting a ballot on behalf of a voter,
- Directing mail-in ballot requests to be canceled if any first class mail to the voter is returned as undeliverable and
- Blocking ballots from being counted if two or more mail-in ballots are returned in the same envelope.
The law also requires election supervisors to add personal identifying numbers to voter records, a provision included at the request of the Florida Department of State that could pave the way to requiring ID numbers on completed mail-in ballots.
More voters could be at risk of their registration being canceled.
S.B. 7050 also strengthens list maintenance requirements that could lead to voters having their registrations purged. The law amends changes the word “shall” to “must” throughout the section of the code describing list maintenance, removing any ambiguity about what is required of elections officials. Additionally, the law:
- Mandates that election officials review registrations at least once a year to identify voters who aren’t registered at a legal residence and initiate the removal of those voters,
- Clarifies that voter registrations can be removed in response to “official” information from any governmental source, not just those specified in existing law and
- Speeds up the removal process by adding deadlines for voters to respond to notices of removal and deadlines for election officials to make final determinations of voters’ eligibility.
The law also bolsters DeSantis’ expected presidential bid (and attempts to clean up some of his messes).
During consideration by the Legislature, Florida Republicans added an amendment to S.B. 7050 that modified Florida’s resign-to-run law. Currently, Florida law requires public officials running for another office that overlaps with their current term to submit a resignation from their current office before running. This resignation is irrevocable, meaning if the candidate were to run and lose, they would still have to resign from their current office. While there’s some debate about whether the law applies to presidential candidates, the amendment explicitly exempts candidates running for president from this requirement, a change that would allow DeSantis to run against former President Donald Trump without having to resign his governorship.
The law also tries to clean up the difficulties caused by DeSantis’ new election crimes office. After creating the Office of Election Crimes and Security (OECS), DeSantis announced 20 arrests for illegal voting in August last year. But many of the attempted prosecutions fell apart when it turned out that many of the individuals mistakenly thought they were eligible to vote, in some cases pointing to registration cards they’d been issued by DeSantis’ own government. In response, S.B. 7050 requires that all registration cards include a disclaimer saying: “This card is proof of registration but is not legal verification of eligibility to vote.” The change will likely make it easier to prosecute individuals for illegally voting. Advocates also warn it will “send mixed signals to voters, and in some cases may dissuade eligible citizens from voting altogether.”
What’s next for S.B. 7050?
Shortly after S.B. 7050 was signed into law, pro-voting organizations filed two separate lawsuits challenging certain provisions of the law. Together, these lawsuits challenge S.B. 7050’s restrictions on third-party voter registration organizations and limitations on who can request a mail-in ballot on behalf of a voter. Specifically, the pro-voting groups contend that these provisions violate the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act. With the lawsuits just now being filed, it could be a year or more until we get a final ruling on the law’s constitutionality.