WASHINGTON, May 6 (Reuters) - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a bill imposing new limits on voting by mail and using ballot drop boxes, the latest Republican-backed voting restrictions to become law in a U.S. election battleground state.
The new law restricts the use of absentee ballot drop boxes to the early voting period, adds new identification requirements for requesting such ballots, and requires voters to reapply for absentee ballots in each new general election cycle. Previously, Florida voters only had to apply once every two election cycles.
The law also gives partisan election observers more power to raise objections and requires people offering voters assistance to stay at least 150 feet (45 meters) away from polling places, an increase from the previous 100-foot (30-meter) radius.
Republican legislators in dozens of states have pursued measures to restrict voting rights in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud. Lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives were poised on Thursday to advance sweeping new voting limits despite opposition from numerous businesses.
Minutes after DeSantis signed the law, the League of Women Voters of Florida and two other civil rights groups sued Florida's 67 counties to try to block the new restrictions. They are represented by Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer who also sued Georgia over voting limits the state passed in March.
The Florida branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Disability Rights Florida and the good government group Common Cause also sued the state on Thursday, arguing the limits would disproportionately hurt Black, Latino and disabled voters.
Republican lawmakers have cited the unfounded claims made by Trump, a Florida absentee voter himself, after his decisive loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Judges rejected such claims in more than 60 lawsuits that failed to overturn the election result. Lawmakers in Republican-controlled states, including Georgia, Texas and Arizona, nevertheless proposed legislation they said was necessary to curb voter fraud, which is extremely rare in the United States.
DeSantis acknowledged in February that Florida had "held the smoothest, most successful election of any state in the country," but said new limits on absentee ballots were needed to safeguard election integrity.
DeSantis, who signed the law in an appearance on the Fox News Channel show "Fox & Friends," said, "Me signing this bill here says, 'Florida, your vote counts, your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency.'"
Mail-in ballots or absentee ballots were used by Democratic voters in greater numbers than Republicans in the 2020 election, as many people avoided in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Florida Republicans used mail-in voting slightly more than Democrats in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 general elections. But in November, Democrats submitted 2.2 million mail-in ballots compared with 1.5 million from Republicans, state records show, after Trump falsely asserted for months that mail voting was rife with fraud.
In March, Georgia's Republican governor signed a law that tightened absentee ballot identification requirements, restricted ballot drop-box use and allowed a Republican-controlled state agency to take over local voting operations.
Democrats and voting rights advocates sued Georgia over the measure, saying it was aimed at disenfranchising Black voters, who helped propel Biden to the presidency and deliver Democrats two U.S. Senate victories in Georgia in January that gave them control of the chamber. Top U.S. companies also decried Georgia’s law, and Major League Baseball moved its All-Star game out of the state in protest.
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