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Possible DeSantis opponent: Florida is 'no longer a free state'

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried tore into Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisDemings raises million after announcing Senate bid against Rubio Florida Board of Education bans critical race theory DeSantis says he would sign ban of surgery for transgender youth MORE (R) on Thursday over a slew of recently signed legislation targeting protests and election procedures, declaring that Florida is “no longer a free state.”

Speaking at a press conference hours after DeSantis signed a sweeping election bill into law, Fried cast the governor as an authoritarian figure bent on curbing basic rights and controlling the flow of information out of his administration. In particular, she noted how he had barred media outlets, except for Fox News, from covering the signing of the elections bill on Thursday. 

“He did this in a closed location with only political supporters, using our taxpayer dollars, with the only camera watching was Fox News,” Fried said. “He is using Fox News as a state news source. We see this in other locations across the world — China, Venezuela. Authoritarian regimes have state-run presses. Not here in America.”

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“We are no longer a free state,” she added. “This governor has infringed upon our rights once again.”

Fried, the lone Democrat in statewide elected office in Florida, is believed to be nearing a run for governor, and has amped up her public criticism of DeSantis in recent months. She hammered the governor on Thursday for pushing the election reforms even after he touted the accuracy and efficacy of Florida’s 2020 election.

“Show me the fraud. Let’s talk about that. The fraud that we did not see in this election,” Fried said. “We had no issues at the polls. We had no issues at the ballot boxes. We had no issue counting ballots.” 

“Per our secretary of state, per our governor and per our Republican leadership have said that this was the most efficient and safe election that has been run in Florida history,” she added. “So where was the fraud? Where was the reason for this piece of legislation?”

Florida’s new elections law resembles measures being pushed in several other Republican-led states in response to former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and malfeasance in the 2020 presidential election.

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Among its provisions are a requirement that voters provide a state-issued ID or driver’s license number to request a mail-in ballot, new limitations on ballot drop boxes and a ban on distributing food or water to voters within 150 feet of a polling site.

DeSantis and Republicans have said that the measure is necessary to reassure voters in the security of the state’s elections, while opponents of the legislation argue that it will only serve to make it more difficult to vote, especially for Black and brown voters.

The new law in Florida has already spurred lawsuits from voting and civil rights groups, arguing that the measure illegally restricts access to the ballot box.