Florida chose to fuel Trump’s election lies. Miami shows what the consequences may be | Opinion

Florida for many years set the example on how to use mail ballots safely and efficiently in local and national elections. But after Donald Trump and his allies falsely claimed fraudulent mail ballots cost him the 2020 elections in other states, Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis decided appeasing election deniers was more important than making the lives of voters easier.

And now, in Miami-Dade — the most voter-rich county in Florida — we’re seeing the consequences of the reforms they passed to purportedly fix what was already working. As the Miami Herald reported this week, a recent law change led to a drastic decrease in the number of vote-by-mail ballot requests in the county.

New rules enacted three years ago required voters to re-register to receive mail ballots for each election cycle and canceled existing requests after the 2022 elections.

Many voters, used to the old system, probably don’t know they have to ask for a ballot again ahead of this year’s elections. They might find out too late they cannot vote by mail and be left with two options: not voting at all, or heading to the polls on Election Day, potentially creating long lines like the ones Miami-Dade saw in 2012, when people had to wait for hours to cast a ballot. Hopefully, extended early-voting periods and sites would make that less likely to happen.

Either way, the results are bad for voter participation and democracy. They are also bad for supervisors of elections across the state who use mail-ballot requests to gauge how many people are likely to vote in an election so they can plan accordingly.

As Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Christina White told the Herald, the law is “a solution looking for a problem.”

It’s plausible that disenfranchising some voters was precisely the intent of the Republican-led legislation. A Florida State University study found that more Florida Democrats voted by mail in 2020 than Republicans, many of whom were persuaded by Trump’s lies about mail ballot fraud.

Trump has now changed his tone and is telling his supporters that voting by mail is suddenly OK. That means the confusion Florida’s reform might create, ironically, also could affect Republican turnout.

“ABSENTEE VOTING, EARLY VOTING, AND ELECTION DAY VOTING ARE ALL GOOD OPTIONS. REPUBLICANS MUST MAKE A PLAN, REGISTER, AND VOTE!” Trump wrote on his social media site Truth Social last month, the Herald reported.

In 2022, nearly 440,000 voters were registered to receive mail ballots in Miami-Dade. As of Tuesday, that number was down to 194,000, the Herald reported. There’s still time to catch up, but not much. The deadline to request a ballot is Aug. 8 for the Aug. 20 primaries and Oct. 24 for the Nov. 5 General Election.

As part of the two-punch hit Republicans delivered in their election reforms, another law they passed in 2023 forced third-party organizations that register voters, especially in minority communities, to scale back their efforts. The Legislature raised the fees those groups could face, shortened the time they have to turn in voter-registration forms to election offices and imposed a $50,000 fine if they allow non-citizens (including green card holders) to handle voter forms. A federal judge blocked that latter provision of the law this month.

Meanwhile, lawmakers also gifted DeSantis an elections fraud office that made a big splash when police arrested several felons who didn’t get their civil rights restored for casting ballots illegally. Many of them said they believed they could vote because they received voter-registration cards from their local election offices — and the state never flagged them as ineligible to vote.

As judge after judge ruled, there was no evidence of widespread election fraud in 2020. So why did Florida buy into election-fraud frenzy, making it harder for voters to cast ballots and civic organizations to help them do so?

The official line is that these were efforts to make elections safer. But the results are slowing showing that their intent appears to be more about partisan politics.

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