Florida tightens voting laws and draws Democrat ire

Republican legislature latest to make polls more secure in wake of Trump’s fraud claims

Florida has become the latest state to pass new voting laws that may make it more difficult for millions of people to vote, in a move that has been widely criticised by Democrats.

The state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed several new measures, including restricting the use of drop-boxes for absentee ballots, which is a popular way of voting in Florida. New rules about who can hand out refreshments to those queuing to vote were also passed, with voting rights activists concerned that this could discourage people from voting in a state where the weather can be dangerously hot.

The package of measures, passed by both chambers in the state capital of Tallahassee, will now go to Republican governor Ron de Santis, who said he will sign the Bill into law.

Republicans argue that they need to make elections more secure, despite the fact that no significant problems with the voting system emerged during last year’s presidential election.

Absentee voting

Former president Donald Trump won the traditional swing state by more than three percentage points in November's election, and Republicans are seeking to cement their ascendancy in the state, which has 20 electoral college votes.

Florida's move to tighten the rules around voting follows a similar effort in Georgia. In March, the state passed a 98-page Bill that will make absentee voting more difficult and introduced new restrictions around voting.

President Joe Biden was among those who condemned the overhaul of the election system in Georgia, describing it as "Jim Crow in the 21st century", a reference to the post-civil war segregation laws in the south.

The new measures in that state prompted a backlash from many in the sporting and corporate world.

Major League Baseball announced it would move its All-Star Game and draft out of Atlanta in response to the law, while Delta and Coca Cola – two companies with significant presences in Georgia – criticised the move. This in turn prompted outrage from Republican politicians, some of whom called for a boycott of products like Coke.

‘Political weapon’

Like Florida, Georgia is an important state electorally. Mr Biden narrowly won the state in November's presidential election, while Democrats won both Senate seats in run-off elections in January, delivering the party a tiny but important majority in the Senate.

Republican senator Tim Scott, who delivered the Republican rebuttal to Mr Biden's address to Congress this week, defended Georgia's new voting laws. The South Carolinian – and only African-American Republican in the Senate – rejected claims by Democrats that Georgia's new laws targeted black communities.

“Race is not a political weapon to sell every issue the way one side wants,” he said during his 15-minute televised rebuttal of Mr Biden’s flagship speech, claiming that the new Georgia measures were “mainstream”.

Other Republican-controlled states such as Texas and Arizona are seeking to overhaul voting laws in the wake of the presidential election, which was followed by unproven claims of voter fraud, fuelled by then-president Donald Trump. More than half of Republican voters believe that Mr Trump’s election loss stemmed from election fraud, according to polls.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent