State of Democracy Spotlight Series: Florida

With the midterm primary season coming to a close and focus shifting to the November general election, Movement Advancement Project (MAP) is kicking off its State of Democracy Spotlight Series which will profile a different state each week.

This series will provide an overview of the current voting landscape, key issues that are coming up in that state, and why it matters for the overall state of democracy in this country. These spotlights will outline policies that will impact what voting may look like in a number of battleground states and will provide overviews of how voting and election laws have changed since the 2020 election, for better or for worse.

See the full Democracy Profile for Florida, which outlines how Florida ranks in the six categories of policies we track, and a detailed list of which voting and election laws Florida has in place.

How Florida Compares to Other States on Voting and Election Policies

Florida ranks 31st in the nation in our Democracy Tally for its voting, election, and democracy policies. The Democracy Maps track 45 laws and policies for each state, which inform this tally.

Despite the rhetoric of leaders in the state, Florida actually ranks in the Democracy Map’s highest category for election security with a number of important protections.

Two of the categories where Florida ranks among the lowest nationwide are on its election independence & integrity policies and its policies for voting in person.

Ensuring that every eligible voter is able to vote is of course a core tenet of free and fair elections in a democracy. That starts with voter registration — and automatic voter registration is a policy to ensure this. Twenty-two states have some form of automatic voter registration, including Georgia, Michigan, and West Virginia. In fact, automatic voter registration helps increase voter turnout while also improving election security. (See our full report on automatic voter registration.)

One of Four States with Significant Issues Related to Election Disinformation

In hearings held by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year, Florida was one of four states identified as having significant issues related to election disinformation as the House committees investigate what can be done to “counter lies and conspiracy theories and protect the integrity of federal elections.”

The hearings specifically shone a light on a Florida law passed last year which implemented a number of restrictions on mail voting; according to the committee, “advocates for S.B. 90 repeated false claims about election fraud in their push to enact the law.”

False Narratives of Voter Fraud Led to Politically Motivated Prosecutions in Florida

The heightened climate around supposed voter fraud has resulted in politically motivated prosecutions of voters. In 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, an initiative that was intended to restore voting rights to people with prior felony convictions.

Following the initiative’s passage, state lawmakers interfered with its implementation by enacting complex administrative requirements for rights restoration which resulted in widespread confusion and lack of a clear process. (Florida is one of 11 states that requires additional action to restore voting rights to someone with a prior felony conviction.)

Since then, several people who thought their voting rights had been restored and who were told by local elections officials that they were eligible to vote have been charged with crimes for trying to vote. They now face penalties of up to five years in prison.

These prosecutions appear to have been politically motivated and originated from the state’s newly created Office of Election Crimes and were erroneously touted by the governor in a press conference as supposed proof of voter fraud.

Voting, Especially Mail Voting, in Florida Has Become More Difficult Since 2020

Under the guise of addressing voter fraud, Florida has passed multiple laws restricting mail voting. Among these restrictions are severe limits on ballot drop boxes, harsh criminal penalties for assisting with ballot return, and strict requirements for identification related to mail voting.

Ballot drop boxes, despite being a popular and secure option utilized by many voters in the 2020 election, have become a target of election conspiracies.

Florida Republicans seized upon these false narratives to implement severe limits on drop boxes which require they be located inside election offices and only available during early voting hours. Similar restrictions in Georgia led to a substantial decline in the use of drop boxes in 2021. (See our policy brief on the battle over ballot drop boxes for more information.)

The state legislature also implemented new ID requirements for mail voting; voters are now required to provide a driver’s license or social security number to request a vote by mail ballot. Voters who do not have this information in their voter registration file may be unable to vote by mail. Democrats in the state have said these new requirements will disproportionately impact voters of color who are less likely to have this information on file.

Finally, harsh new limits on ballot collection, and resulting felony criminal penalties, have imposed a chilling effect on get out the vote efforts, according to advocates. The state now restricts ballot collection limits to possessing no more than two ballots, and violating the law is a felony.

Bottom Line: Florida in the 2022 Midterm Elections

As has been the case for the past two decades, Florida will continue to be under the spotlight in terms of elections. The governor and legislature have continued to push false narratives of election fraud and use these false narratives as a justification to enact new restrictions on voting. This is despite the fact that Florida already has strong election security laws. The new laws enacted in Florida since the 2020 election do nothing to actually improve election security, but rather suppress votes and weaken the independence and integrity of the state’s democracy.

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Democracy Maps

Democracy Maps tracks more than 40 laws and policies on elections and voting. Project of Movement Advancement Project, an independent, nonprofit think tank.