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Advocates sound alarm as restrictive voting laws pile up

Voting advocates say that the urgency and need for federal oversight of state voting procedures - a Democratic legislative priority - has increased as Florida became the latest state this week to implement new voting restrictions and multiple other states are on the precipice of doing the same.

Florida was the latest state to sign into law new voting restrictions, with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) giving S.B. 90 his stamp of approval Thursday morning.

With complete control of the Sunshine State's legislature, Republican lawmakers were able to fast-track the omnibus bill to DeSantis's desk despite opposition from civil rights groups and all 67 of Florida county supervisors of elections.

It's a strategy that has worked recently in not just Florida but also Georgia, Iowa and Montana.

Similarly restrictive bills are close to becoming law in Arizona and Texas. Republican legislators in Ohio's statehouse introduced a voting restriction proposal of their own on Thursday.

"This is a blatant and calculated attack on the right to vote," NAACP president Derrick Johnson said of the Sunshine State's legislation after it was signed.

"We should be working to expand access to voting to strengthen our democracy, as opposed to restricting and limiting the American people's sacred right to participate in elections."

S.B. 90 limits absentee ballot box access to when polling sites are open for early voting and requires a poll worker to be present while voters are dropping off their ballots. Florida voters who want to submit an absentee ballot must now request one every election cycle; the previous law made requests good for two election cycles.

The Florida bill also has visible similarities to Georgia's S.B. 202, which became law in late March and led many Atlanta-based corporations to openly condemn the legislation.

For example, Florida voters who want an absentee ballot must include with their request either their driver's license number, state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Florida's new regulations also prohibit anyone other than poll workers from giving food or drink to voters standing in line to cast their ballot within 150 feet of a polling place.

"I think what we are going to continue to see is not quite cookie cutter, but a sharing of ideas from one state to another about the most effective ways to limit access to voting," Tom Lopach, president and CEO of the Voter Participation Center, told The Hill.

"Legislators do not want eligible voters to have easy access to voting ... elections should be a contest of ideas, not a contest of who gets to vote."

Republicans have claimed that the restrictive voting legislation proliferating in state legislatures serve the purpose of making elections more secure, driven by now-debunked claims from former President Trump that widespread voter fraud marred last year's presidential election.

Voting fraud is in fact exceedingly rare, and numerous analyses have shown that the last election was not marred by a spike in fraudulent voting behavior.

Even according to the conservative Heritage Foundation, there have only been 1,322 proven instances of voter fraud across the country on every level of election since the early 1980s.

DeSantis tweeted the day after Election Day that Florida's election system was a "model for the rest of the nation to follow."

More than 158 million Americans voted in the presidential election, the most ever. More than 66 percent of the voting eligible population in the U.S. cast a ballot, the most since 1900.

Experts and lawmakers have pointed to expanded voting rights - in particular, greater access to early and by-mail voting - that most states adopted because of the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the driving reasons for record turnout.

Overall, 65.6 million Americans voted by mail; another 35.8 million took advantage of in-person early voting in their states.

Democratic voters were more likely to vote by mail in 2020, a stat that voting rights advocates and Democrats who have fought bills like S.B. 90 have argued is one of the reasons for the GOP voting restrictions push.

In Florida, for example, 45 percent of counted mail-in ballots in the state came from voters who were registered Democrats. By contrast, 45 percent of Florida's in-person voters were registered Republicans.

The surge of voting restriction proposals across the country has also been criticized as a poorly veiled attempt to keep Black Americans and other people of color from casting ballots.

Voter turnout among Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and Black Americans were all up in 2020. Black Americans were Democrats' staunchest racial voting bloc, with 87 percent voting for Biden.

Voting rights proponents have decried the heightened voter ID restrictions featured in both Florida and Georgia as a modern version of poll taxes, which prevented many Black people from voting in the Jim Crow South.

"This is not only Jim Crow 2.0, this is the post-Civil War strategy to take the country backward. So we need to be very, very serious about this moment, understand what it represents," Cornell William Brooks, director of The William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at Harvard's Kennedy School, told The Hill.

"Our democracy is in peril."

Nonetheless, the string of restrictive voting laws is likely to continue without federal intervention.

The two bills that Democrats in Congress have championed that would stop the bills from taking effect, H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, are both unlikely to pass without the removal of the Senate filibuster, a move that doesn't have total Democratic support.

The bill named after the late congressman and civil rights icon would reinstate a federal pre-clearance requiring states with a history of discriminatory voting practices to gain approval from the Justice Department before making changes to their voting procedures.

It's unclear what the new formula for the pre-clearance will look like, though Democrats have signaled that it's their goal to get the bill passed this year.

H.R. 1, called the For the People Act, is an omnibus bill that would, among other things, force states to offer mail-in ballots, early voting periods and same-day voter registration. It would also create automatic voter registration and make Election Day a national holiday for federal workers.

"We have to pass them," Brooks said.

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