TALLAHASSEE — Florida may bar outside groups from giving food or water to voters standing within 150 feet of polling places, a provision that is drawing comparisons to a much broader prohibition included in a contentious election bill recently enacted in nearby Georgia.
The top state House Republican who is pushing the legislation, FL HB7041 (21R), defended the measure on Monday, noting that state law already includes a “no-solicitation zone” near polling places that bar campaigns and political groups from approaching voters.
“It’s influencing the vote and that’s what we are trying to stop because they are a captive audience,” Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill), the bill sponsor and the former chair of the Republican Party of Florida, said at a hearing Monday. “The 150 feet area is supposed to be a safe zone where they are not going to be bothered by a campaign.”
Ingoglia also said that nothing in the proposal would prevent local election supervisors from handing out water to people in line if they wanted.
“I just think it should be a function of the government,” he said.
President Joe Biden last week roundly criticized the sweeping new election measure signed into law by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, referring to the provision that barred someone from giving water to voters as an “atrocity.”
Georgia’s new law specifies that no one can offer food or water “within 25 feet of any voter of voter standing in line to vote at any polling place” or within 150 feet of the outer edge of any polling place.
Ingoglia said he has no plans to apply the restriction outside the “no solicitation zone” and added that polling places shouldn’t have long lines given the multiple ways the state allows people to vote, including early voting and vote-by-mail.
Despite a long-standing reputation for botched elections, including the infamous 2000 presidential recount, Florida’s balloting ran smoothly last year. Then-President Donald Trump won the state by a comfortable margin by Florida standards.
Due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly 44 percent of all Florida voters cast ballots by mail in 2020. Democrats, who have traditionally trailed Republicans in using mail-in ballots, swamped Republicans this time around. More than 2.18 million Democrats used mail-in ballots compared to 1.5 million Republican voters.
But Trump consistently criticized mail-in voting as he repeated baseless accusations about voter fraud. Initially, Republican legislative leaders said they did not see a need for any large changes. But Gov. Ron DeSantis in late February called on lawmakers to pass an elections bill.
The state Senate has proposed a bill that would ban the use of drop boxes, which allow voters to turn in their mail-in ballots directly to election offices instead of using the U.S. Postal Service. The Senate bill would also force all voters to resubmit vote-by-mail requests for the 2022 elections while at the same time limiting the duration of future requests.
Ingoglia’s legislation would keep drop boxes in place, but it would require voters dropping off ballots to present identification in order to use them. The measure would also limit who can drop off a ballot to an immediate family member or someone who lives at the same address.
Black pastors gathered last week at the Capitol to criticize the pending bills, saying they were designed to suppress minority voters. Democratic legislators have also roundly blasted the election proposals.
State Rep. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat who used to work in the Duval County Supervisor of Elections office, called the prohibition on handing out food and water inside the no-solicitation zone as “creating unnecessary hurdles and unnecessary burdens.”
But Davis added that groups have routinely been aware of the zone and worked around it in the past. She said she planned on focusing on what she called more “egregious” portions of the bill that crack down on mail-in voting.