TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Senate on Monday passed one of at least two bills in the Legislature that critics say will make it harder for Floridians to vote.

What You Need To Know

  • A bill tightening voting rules passed in the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature

  • SB 90 spells out the use of vote-by-mail drop boxes in the state of Florida

  • It's one of at least two voting-related bills in the Legislature; one other is HB 7041 

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 23-17 in favor of SB 90, which opponents have deemed a voter-suppression bill that places new limits on, among other things, voter registration, mail-in voting and drop boxes. With the exception of Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who voted against it, the chamber voted along party lines.

The bill, sponsored by Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, limits use of drop boxes to a county’s early voting hours of operation, requires drop boxes at all locations to be monitored in person and creates additional security and accountability measures related to drop boxes, according to a Senate analysis from last week.

The bill also bans elections supervisors from mailing a vote-by-mail ballot to a person without a specific requests, adds additional idenfiers into order to request a vote-by-mail ballot, requires voters to renew their standing request for a vote-by-mail ballot every calendar year, and limits who can deliver a vote-by-mail ballot on a voter's behalf, and how.

State Sen. Annette Tadeo, D-Miami, wrote immediately after the vote on Twitter said she considered the bill “the type of law you see in authoritarian regimes.” She added: "Why is the @GOP priority to make life more difficult for their constituents to vote? Are they that afraid of losing power?”

Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement through the organization: "Instead of upholding the fundamental right to vote, certain Florida senators have decided to become accomplices to the nationwide voter suppression scheme underway by passing this undemocratic bill. They are suppressing the right to vote by obstructing access to vote-by-mail."

To become law, the bill now must be taken up by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The Florida House has been considering HB 7041, a more broad-ranging election measure that tightens rules on everything from how you change information in your voting records, to ballot drop boxes, to signature verification, to changes that could affect whether people can pass out drinks or food to voters on line to vote. 

Likewise, the Senate bill would ban "giving or attempting to give any item to a voter" within a polling-station no-solicitation zone, though it says an elections employee or volunteer would be able to do so.

Sen. Brandes, the only Republican to vote against the bill, didn't comment Monday. Brandes awaits final bill passage, "as the House version will likely come back to the Senate as the final version," spokesman Zachary Colletti wrote in an email reply to Spectrum News.

From its Twitter account, the Florida Democratic Party on Monday called SB 90 "a major voter suppression bill that makes it illegal to give voters in line food and water, makes it harder to vote by mail & severely limits drop boxes. This legislation is bad for democracy and bad for Florida."

Yet some disagreed. Tim Swain weighed in as a self-proclaimed "America First 2022 US Senate Candidate from South Carolina," calling SB 90 "the the most sweeping election integrity/voter ID legislation in the Nation!"

The Senate action follows a controversial new Republican-sponsored law in Georgia that includes new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run.

Drop boxes have emerged as a flash point, as The Pew Charitable Trusts puts it, in the debate over voting access. As Pew says, supporters prefer them because they fear their mail-in ballots otherwise might not be counted.

Meanwhile, opponents of drop boxes cite concerns about ballot security, "despite little evidence that drop boxes are any less secure than other voting methods," Pew says.

Members of Orange County's Black community last month called SB 90 an attack on their vote. In the 2020 general election, a majority of Black registered voters chose early voting or vote by mail.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.