Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, filed HB 967 in the Florida House to remove the signature match requirement for voters in elections. The bill was referred to the Oversight, Transportation and Public Management; the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee and the State Affairs Committee.
The bill’s senate companion, which was filed on January 23 by Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Duval, was referred to the Ethics and Elections, Judiciary and Rules committee for evaluation on February 1.
The bill hopes to remove the election signature match requirement for in-person and mail-in ballots in Florida. This was a major issue in the 2018 Florida election, which involved former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson filing lawsuit on Nov. 9 against the vote-by-mail portion of the law.
The lead recount lawyer during the election, Marc Elias, described the signature requirement as “an outright disenfranchisement and burden on the right to vote” due to leaving the validity of the ballot on the “untrained opinions” of poll workers.
The lawsuit was heard by 11th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Mark Walker, who ruled in favor of Nelson and gave a 48-hour extension for voters and election workers to fix the signature issues.
“There are dozens of reasons a signature mismatch may occur, even when the individual signing it is a voter. Disenfranchisement of approximately 5,000 voters based on signature mismatch is a substantial burden,” Walker wrote in his ruling.
On February 15, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals investigated the Florida election signature law, ruling in a 2-1 opinion that the law imposes “a serious burden to the right to vote.” Judges Robin Rosenbaum and Beverly Martin voted towards this ruling, while Judge Tjoflat dissented.
If passed, the law could take effect July 1 due to a Florida law that establishes bills take effect 60 days after adjournment of the legislature, which is May 1. Both Davis and Gibson’s bills will be examined when the Florida Legislature comes into session on March 5.
Tracie Davis (second from the right) being sworn in as a member of the Florida House of Representatives in November 2016. (Public domain photo by Florida House of Representatives.)