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One GOP lawmaker defects as elections bill heads to Florida Senate

'We're trying to be safe and protect everyone's vote,' Sen. Dennis Baxley says
Posted at 6:11 PM, Apr 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 18:11:27-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Controversial election reforms, including new limits on voting by mail, inched closer to approval Tuesday.

A Senate panel sent its package to the floor. A House committee did the same with its measure, Monday.

The full chambers may now take up their respective measures as soon as this week.

"We're trying to be safe and protect everyone's vote," said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who is sponsoring SB 90.

His latest version closely aligns with the House bill. It requires the following:

  • Monitored drop boxes
  • Limits on who can pick up or drop off ballots
  • A 150-foot no-solicitation zone
  • And that mail-in voters to request ballots annually instead of every two election cycles.

"We're foolish if we don't look around the country and see things that we can do to make this more reliable," Baxley said. "Credibility is everything."

State Sen. Dennis Baxley
State Sen. Dennis Baxley says Senate Bill 90 may get a floor vote as soon as this week.

The Republican lawmaker said to expect more amendments on the floor. Specifically, he mentioned a carve-out allowing volunteers to provide water to voters in line.

Also, Baxley expected the elimination of the "wet signature" provision. It forbids election officials from using digital signatures to match mail ballots, preferring those written in pen or pencil.

The changes still not enough for fellow State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. He was the only GOP member to vote down the bill in committee.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes
State Sen. Jeff Brandes was the only Republican not to support the election reform bill.

"Obviously, I’m probably going to get a number of phone calls after this bill. … after this vote," Brandes told his colleagues. "To my knowledge, not one Republican [election] supervisor has stood up and said they support this legislation, therefore I will not support it."

His defection came as welcomed news for Democrats. Members have worried the bills will disenfranchise.

The minority party still lacks the no votes needed, however. In these final days, they're continuing to push major companies to pressure lawmakers to defeat the bills on the floor.

"We have to stop this," Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said this week. "If this legislature won't listen to 'we the people,' maybe they'll listen to you the corporations."

So far, Gov. Ron DeSantis seems unfazed by the threat of corporate pressure. He said during recent national interviews companies should stay out of issues that didn't directly concern them and suggested there would be consequences for not doing so.