voter rights

DeSantis Signature Problem Shows Florida's ‘Over-Regulated the Right to Vote,' State's Top Democrat Says

Nikki Fried says governor’s ballot rejection should be warning on disenfranchisement

Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried expressed her concerns Tuesday night about efforts in the Sunshine State to add new restrictions to how mail ballots can be cast, calling news of a rejected mail ballot from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis “ironic” and a sign her state has “over-regulated the right to vote.”

Fried, the only Democrat to win statewide office in Florida since 2006, was reacting to a recent NBCLX story that detailed how Governor Ron DeSantis once had his vote thrown away when election officials determined the signature on his mail ballot showed “no similarities” to his other signatures on-file.  Then a congressman, DeSantis submitted an additional signature to try and cure his vote, but officials in his home county also declared that a mismatch.

DeSantis is now advocating a series of new changes to Florida election law that would change how mail ballots are requested, where they can be dropped off, and how many get rejected because of signature mismatches.

“Instead of moving forward and lessening the restrictions, we are creating huge obstacles for so many people across the state of Florida,” said Fried, who is considered one of the top possible challengers to DeSantis’ 2022 re-election campaign. 

More From NBCLX

Ron DeSantis Once Had Vote Tossed When Officials Couldn't Verify Signature on Ballot Was His

Sleep is Great. But Are Eight Straight Hours Necessary?

“These are additional barriers that really put on a lot on low-income communities and potentially, a lot of our communities of color. The problem is, that's the point.”

On the same day the NBCLX story was published about DeSantis’ ballot,  a controversial proposal to completely ban ballot dropboxes at elections offices was removed of the Senate elections bill (SB 90).  However, the proposal to significantly reduce the number of dropboxes and the hours they can operate remains alive in both the Senate and House, even though election officials from both parties have been outspoken about the depositories being safe and secure.

The Republican sponsor of the House bill, State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, told NBCLX the legislation is designed to add new protections to the mail ballot process for voters who don’t trust the post office.

Another controversial Florida proposal – one that would have banned the distribution of food or water to voters waiting in line – was stripped out of the House elections bill last week following the corporate backlash to a similar law in Georgia.

Other controversial legislation remains

DeSantis’ office, which did not respond to NBCLX’s written questions or multiple requests for comment,  is still working with the Florida legislature on measures that would prevent someone from outside a voter’s family from assisting with a mail ballot, as well as canceling millions of standing vote-by-mail ballot requests. That would mean voters would have to re-request a mail ballot for each election.

The governor – who hasn’t spoken publicly about his 2016 rejected mail ballot – also wants to change the way ballot signatures are approved or rejected.

Instead of letting election officials consider all of a voter’s signatures on-file when looking for similarities on ballot handwriting, DeSantis wants to restrict the comparison to only a voter’s most recent signature. Forensic analysts told NBCLX last fall that an individual’s signature varies day-to-day, and denying election workers access to multiple signature examples would not only damage the integrity of the matching process, but also result in far more rejections.

Republicans have characterized the bills as “election integrity” measures; Democrats have called the proposed legislation “voter suppression” measures.

“We want to make sure that there's integrity at the ballot box – that is really important that people trust democracy,” Fried said.  “(But) show me where there's been fraud in the last two election cycles.

“The bottom line is Republicans are passing this these types of bills across our country because they want to remain in power. Simple, point blank. And instead of working with Democrats to expand access to the ballot box, they're passing these various oppressive voting bills.”

Noah Pransky is NBCLX’s National Political Editor.  He covers Washington and state politics for NBCLX, and his investigative work has been honored with national Murrow, Polk, duPont, and Cronkite awards. You can contact him confidentially at noah.pransky@nbcuni.com or on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.