WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed Florida's elections reform bill into law.
DeSantis signed SB90, which includes restrictions on voting by mail and ballot drop boxes, Thursday morning in West Palm Beach.
The bill-signing event, which was closed to local media and took place live on Fox News, was held at the Hilton by Palm Beach International Airport.
A news release from the governor's office said the new law is "strengthening voter identification, prohibiting the mass mailing of ballots, banning ballot harvesting and prohibiting private money from administering elections" in Florida.
After the bill-signing, DeSantis held up a poster touting "integrity & transparency" in Florida's voting laws.
"Me signing this bill here says, 'Florida, your vote counts. Your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency,'" DeSantis said during his appearance on "Fox & Friends."
Hours later, DeSantis held a news conference in Panama City Beach and called the election reform bill "one of the best in the country."
"We're really proud of that," DeSantis said. "We're gonna make sure our elections are transparent and they're not being funded by special interests."
Brian Crowley has covered Florida politics for decades and noted that critics see the new election law as a "thank you" gift wrapped in live television coverage.
"Desantis is not leading. He's following," Crowley said. "Instead of addressing the 15 million voters in the state, he chose to focus on a third of the voters, his Republican followers who watch Fox News. What Gov. Desantis did today was play little league ball."
WATCH NEWS CONFERENCE:
State Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, called election reform "a solution looking for a problem."
"The governor said it himself … this (2020) was the best election we had in the state of Florida," Powell said.
The governor said one of the top priorities of the law is banning ballot harvesting, which is when volunteers or election workers collect ballots from voters' homes and drop them off at polling locations or elections offices. DeSantis and other critics argue that practice could increase the chances of fraud.
"To have these unpaid operatives go out there and do it like they do in California, and like they do in some of these other states, that's a big, big problem," DeSantis said. "I think it's terrible for our country."
President Donald Trump won the state in 2020, and Republicans have long championed expanded mail-in voting. Critics said the GOP didn't like the trend it saw last year.
"More Democrats voted … by mail than Republicans, and that became problematic," Powell said.
Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County, blasted the new law.
"This type of bill, that is almost a follow along with other states like Georgia, is really going to suppress votes, especially in low-income minority areas," Franklin said.
But not just minority voters. Many Floridians, especially older residents, welcome mail and drop-box voting.
"I think he's made it harder for those voters, and many of those voters are Republican," Crowley said.
Treasure Coast state Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, voted for the bill.
"We saw across the country the various things that happened, and although we had a successful election in Florida, there were things we want to make sure don't happen," Harrell said.
State Rep. Omari Hardy, D-Lake Worth Beach, said Republicans were determined to reign in voting by mail.
"I think the Legislature and the governor are making a mockery of democracy," Hardy said. "The facts are this is a bill to suppress the votes of certain people, people of color, working-class people who tend to support Democrats."
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who recently announced his own candidacy for the governor's mansion, called out DeSantis for barring media from the signing.
This is the difference between @GovRonDeSantis and me. He locks out the public and caters to FOX News. When I was Governor, everyone was invited in — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. And when I'm Governor again, this will be a Florida for all. https://t.co/o7IuDJaYAN— Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) May 6, 2021
While an earlier proposal of the elections bill would have banned the use of ballot drop boxes outright, the new legislation would allow their use as long as election officials follow new constraints -- limits on who could drop off voters' ballots at drop boxes, a ban on moving drop boxes within 30 days of elections, restrictions on where drop boxes could be placed and a requirement that they would all have to be monitored by elections officials whenever they're open.
The law also requires voters to request to vote by mail more regularly, prohibits election officials from using private money to help pay for election administration, restricts third-party voter registration organizations, adds new powers for partisan election observers and gives DeSantis the leeway to appoint replacements to fill certain local political positions vacated by people running for higher office.
Shortly after DeSantis signed the bill, the League of Women Voters joined the Black Voters Matter Fund, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and several individual Florida voters to file a lawsuit challenging the law.
Powell said he supports the lawsuits as an effort to expand the opportunity to vote.
The signing of the bill comes six months after the state set a record for mail-in ballots with 4.8 million returned in the presidential election.
The new rules in the law will be in place for elections conducted in 2022, which include the race for governor.