What’s wrong with this picture? Everything.
Scene One: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came to West Palm Beach Thursday to sign a flawed and needless overhaul of state election laws. Not one county election supervisor was in favor of it. Republican and Democratic supervisors alike called the changes unnecessary and predict problems at the polls and a lower voter turnout when DeSantis himself runs for reelection next year.
Scene Two: DeSantis signs Senate Bill 90 at a morning rally at a Hilton hotel near Palm Beach International Airport. The woman at the door wears a Trump hat and a pickup truck has a big Trump flag and one that says “DeSantis 2024: Make America Florida.” Unmasked guests are given pro-DeSantis stickers as a ceremonial bill signing turns blatantly partisan on an issue that should never be partisan: voting.
Scene Three: The news media is blocked from entering the hotel’s Majestic ballroom and must peer through a plate glass window as DeSantis signs into law one of the most controversial measures of the year. “Closed event,” says his communications director, Taryn Fenske.
Only Fox News, the Republican version of state-run media, was allowed in as Florida became the latest state to join the growing trend of imposing new barriers to voting.
“I’m not a fan of drop boxes at all, to be honest with you,” DeSantis tells the fawning panel on “Fox & Friends” as he holds up a graphic that twisted the truth about what’s in Senate Bill 90. He refuses to take questions and is whisked away.
America gets another revealing glimpse of life under the iron-fisted rule of DeSantis in Florida, a place where the doors are shut tight to anyone who might question his wisdom or challenge his authority.
Reporters and TV crews didn’t miss much at the closed bill signing, but that’s not the point. Locking out the media is the latest sign of DeSantis’ authoritarian grip on governing the nation’s third-largest state. He increasingly acts like his role model, the tyrannical Donald Trump, who picked petty fights with news outlets and cherry-picked reporters who tossed softball questions.
Like Trump, DeSantis keeps revealing his thin skin, and his willful attacks on the press are dangerous in a free society. A Fox News spokesperson said afterward that the cable news channel “did not request or mandate that the May 6 event and/or interview with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) be exclusive,” but the fact that Fox News would be a willing accomplice to this stunt shows it has become a national joke masquerading as a real news organization.
The law is bad enough. It restricts the use of vote-by-mail drop boxes, forces voters to request vote-by-mail ballots more often, makes it harder for third-party groups to register voters, threatens supervisors with punitive $25,000 fines if a drop box isn’t always under human supervision and prohibits private citizens from handing out water or food at the polls.
The oppressive law perpetuates the Big Lie of a stolen election by insinuating that Florida election laws needed fixing or don’t prevent fraud. That’s false. As DeSantis himself has said repeatedly, Florida ran a seamless election last November, with an impressive 77% turnout during a pandemic. Nearly half of all voters voted by mail, many of them Democrats, yet Republicans still won.
But they’re not happy, so they’re cynically attacking voting by mail for one simple reason: because Democrats like it, especially people of color, and they want to keep voting that way.
Shame on Republicans for this law, which will only make it harder for lawful votes to be counted and will undermine public faith in Florida elections.
What makes this charade all the worse is that the only known case of election fraud in Florida from the 2020 election involves a Republican, Frank Artiles, a former legislator from Miami-Dade. He faces multiple felony counts for allegedly recruiting a sham third-party candidate who disrupted a Senate race that ended with a Democratic incumbent, Jose Javier Rodriguez, losing by 32 votes.
The ink from DeSantis’ signature was barely dry when the League of Women Voters and two other groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, challenging the constitutionality of the new law as it relates to the First and 14th amendments.
In their lawsuit, plaintiffs named all 67 county election supervisors as defendants. That should further expose the truth that the true voting experts in Florida already know: This law is indefensible, makes it harder for people to vote and should be struck down.©2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.