WFTX — A former state lawmaker who once represented part of Southwest Florida in the Florida House of Representatives says his fellow party members moved in the right direction when they used their majority to pass a voting bill this week.
Below are some excerpts (edited for length and clarity) of our interview with Republican Byron Donalds who now represents most of Lee and Collier counties in the U.S House of Representatives.
WFTX: The proposed legislation…would eliminate ballot boxes which a lot of people appreciated as conveniences, where do you stand on that?
Rep. Donalds/(R) District: Well, let's take the ballot drop boxes. They only came to be because of the pandemic Covid. 19. Prior to Covid 19 there were not drop boxes. So let's be very clear about what the legislature is reforming.
WFTX: But a lot of people who have kids at home and are holding down two jobs found out, "Wow, I've never been able to vote before and I could this time because I could drop it off at an odd time. If this were in effect, I might be able to participate better in the next election.”
Rep. Donalds/(R) District 19: But in Florida, we cannot make the argument of somebody holding down two jobs can't get an opportunity to cast their vote. Because in Florida, we have two weeks of early voting. And we can vote by mail. A stamp is 54 cents and you can go on election day. There are rampant massive opportunities for people to cast their ballots. If we say we're not going to allow drop boxes that doesn't mean we don't want people to vote. We have also to secure the vote. We have to secure the apparatus. So I for one do not support ballot drop boxes.
WFTX: We really haven't any evidence of where there was a problem with drop boxes. You said “secure” the vote. We haven't seen any evidence of fraud of using that extra mechanism to allow more people to vote possibly?
Rep. Donalds/(R) District 19: Well, here's the thing. A lot of these drop boxes weren't even monitored. They were just put out there. They were not monitored all the way around the entire time length.
WFTX also asked Rep. Donalds about other GOP-held legislatures that are taking similar measures to eliminate voting options used in the 2020 election.
Rep. Byron Donalds/(R) District 19: It's important that we lay out in proper context what the legislatures are actually doing. Georgia is an example. Georgia actually expanded voting. They expanded voting opportunities. Georgia has more expansive opportunities to vote than the president's home state of Delaware. That's in the Georgia law.
WFTX: That Georgia law also says you can't give water to people waiting in lines which often form in minority neighborhoods.
Rep. Donalds/(R) District 19: Let's take the thing about not be able to give water. Do you know that Georgia's law is similar to Florida's law? In Florida, we have a no solicitation law just like in Georgia. It's an identical law. I'm quite familiar with it because I talked to members of the Georgia delegation about this provision. In Florida, you cannot talk to or give anything to a voter within 150 feet of a polling location. It's not a solicitation. That's what Georgia did. This whole argument that the President made up - which is nonsense - about you can't give water. That (provision) prohibits political candidates, third party groups, state committee groups, from engaging with voters when they’re in the no-solicitation bubble at a precinct location. That's how we run our elections in Florida. We've been doing that for 10 to 20 years like that where you can't contact voters.
One of the Democrats considering challenging Rep. Donalds in next year’s election sees the Florida bill differently.
In a statement, Cindy Banyai said, “Florida has been a leader in vote by mail for decades without issue. The changes being made to our voting practices by the Florida legislature are politically motivated and in response to false claims of voter fraud. Removing ballot boxes and making it harder to vote hurts working people, those that are home-bound, and families the most. If we want our democracy to work, we should be making it easier for people to vote, not more difficult. It’s not a coincidence that the bill in Florida is similar to the one in Georgia. It’s part of a coordinated voter suppression effort by GOP held state legislatures. These bills are cropping up now because the US Supreme Court last year struck down a provision in the voting rights act that required federal oversight of election changes in places with a history of voter suppression. These are clear efforts to drag us back to the Jim Crow era.”