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Partisan attack on voting by mail

By C. RONALD ELLINGTON - | Mar 5, 2021

PHOTO PROVIDED C. Ronald Ellington

As a senior citizen I benefited greatly from the ease and convenience of casting my vote in the 2020 general election by mail. I was not alone: Some 4.8 million of my fellow Floridians did the same. The process worked smoothly according to local election officials. There is no evidence of widespread abuse or fraud. Now Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee are attempting to subvert the system by retroactively reducing the period for which a filed request to vote by mail can be honored.

Under current Florida law, a filed request to vote by mail is good for two general election cycles. Senate Bill 90, now before the Senate Oversight and Governmental Accountability Committee, would reduce that period to one. And it is more insidious that that. Voters who filed a request to vote by mail in the fall of 2020 would have been eligible to vote by mail without further action on their part in the 2022 primary and general election. Senate Bill 90 explicitly expunges that promise by terminating the request at the end of calendar year 2020 so that a voter must file a new request to vote by mail for the 2022 elections.

What purpose does this change accomplish? Sponsors claim it will prevent ballots from being left at old addresses. But when the named recipient no longer resides at the mailing address, the post office returns the ballot to the election office marked as “undeliverable.” The actual effect is that it creates an unnecessary hurdle to voting by mail. The legislature’s own fiscal analysis concludes that if it results in many voters applying again to vote by mail for 2022 it will increase costs to the counties and administrative burdens for local election officials. So why the push to change the law?

The answer is as plain as day: Right now Democrats hold a lead of more than 800,000 over Republicans in mail ballot requests. The passage of this measure will erase the Democrats’ advantage as Gov. Ron DeSantis runs for re-election. The calculation here is brazen. If more Democrats vote by mail than Republicans, make voting by mail more difficult. For some Republican lawmakers that partisan payoff outweighs the cost to counties and the extra burden on those, both Democrats and Republicans, who wish to vote by mail. And sadly, many will fail to resubmit another request next year and end up not voting at all instead of standing in lines at the polls. Voting from home is a real boon to senior citizens, the disabled, those caring for the aged and ill, people working long hours, hard-pressed single parents and those with limited transportation — of both parties. It is time to let our representatives know we don’t like being treated as pawns in a game of blatant political partisanship.

C. Ronald Ellington is a Sanibel resident and board member for the League of Women Voters of Sanibel. He is a retired faculty member of the University of Georgia School of Law, where he taught for over 40 years and served as dean for part of the time. Ellington held the Cleveland Chair in Legal Ethics and Professionalism and was named a Josiah Meigs Professor. He earned his undergraduate degree from Emory University, his law degree from the University of Virginia and a graduate degree in law from Harvard University.