TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the final approval to a controversial voting restrictions bill passed by Florida lawmakers.
The GOP-backed legislation, which the governor was a vocal supporter of, placed limits on ballot drop boxes, among other things.
Critics of the law, including several groups that have filed lawsuits over the matter, have dubbed the measure a piece of voter suppression that especially makes it harder for seniors, people of color and individuals with disabilities to vote.
And a new report by POLITICO reveals that those suspicions may have some truth to them.
Internal emails and texts between GOP leaders obtained by the news organization show that the crackdown on the state’s election system may have been motivated by Republican efforts to get a leg up on Democrats voting by mail.
In a particular exchange with Republican state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, Florida GOP Chair Joe Gruters, a state senator from Sarasota, reportedly wrote that it would be “devastating” for Republicans not to cancel all existing mail-in ballot requests after the 2020 election cycle.
Ahead of the 2020 election, nearly 2.7 Democrats in Florida requested mail-in ballots compared to nearly 1.9 million Republicans, likely due to the Democratic push to take advantage of the remote option during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Had Gruters’ plea for a mail-in ballot reset been included in the bill, all voters would have to re-submit their requests for mail-in ballots ahead of the 2022 election, when DeSantis and other state GOP officials are up for reelection.
As it stands, mail-in ballot requests in Florida will be valid through the 2022 election but will only be good for one election cycle in the future.
“We cannot make up ground. Trump campaign spent 10 million. Could not cut down lead,” Gruters wrote to Ingoglia, according to POLITICO.
This undermines the repeated Republican sentiment that the legislation’s goal is to make our elections more secure rather than, as some critics have argued, to help Republicans get ahead in elections.
When asked about his text messages, Gruters told POLITICO “what I said in my text message was accurate. I think the failure to do a reset will have a detrimental impact going forward.”
Ingoglia told the outlet, “I had an open door policy and listened to everyone. Some ideas we took, and many were discarded. The legislature wrote this bill. Any suggestion otherwise is not accurate. Ultimately I’m proud of what the Florida Legislature passed.”
He added that the push to shorten the time that mail-in ballot requests are valid “was a policy decision all along and had nothing to do with partisan reasons.”
After learning of the text exchange, several Florida Democrats criticized Republican lawmakers’ motives.
“The Republican-led Florida Legislature decided to play politics, they decided to make it such that not all votes would be treated equal…and would make it harder, harder…to make your vote count,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) told the Herald-Tribune. She called the GOP leaders’ messages “wrong, gross, and everything that people hate about politics.”
“If this was truly about democracy and integrity of elections we would be taking the advice of experts,” State Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-Miami) told POLITICO. “Clearly this shows this was partisan — where they were colluding to undermine democracy.”
The voting restrictions bill was signed into law after former President Donald Trump repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen.
Despite calling the 2020 election the "most transparent and efficient election anywhere in the country," DeSantis said Florida couldn't "rest on our laurels."