‘Built on a lie’: White House says Florida ‘moving in wrong direction’ on voting rights

·3-min read
 (AP)
(AP)

The White House has condemned a restrictive elections bill signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday that voting rights advocates warn could suppress turnout.

“The 2020 election was one of the most secure elections in American history – there is no legitimate reason to change the rules right now to make it harder to vote that is built on a lie,” said principal deputy press secretary Karine Jeanne-Pierre.

“The only reason to change the rules right now is if you don’t like who voted,” she told reporters on Air Force 1 as officials travelled to Louisiana. “Florida is moving in the wrong direction. We need to be working to make sure voting is secure and convenient.”

Ms Jeanne-Pierre revived White House support for the For The People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill that passed in the House of Representatives and awaits action in a divided Senate.

The measure – signed into law and aired exclusively to Fox News during an interview with the hosts of Fox & Friends – follows similar moves proposed in nearly every state, including limits on access to absentee ballots and ballot drop-box locations, granting more authority to partisan poll watchers, and prohibiting actions that voting rights advocates say will criminalise giving out food and water to people waiting in long lines to cast their votes.

In the November general election, more than 4.8 million Florida voters – more than 40 per cent – cast mail-in ballots, including many Republican voters.

The law was immediately challenged in federal court in lawsuits brought by the League of Women Voters Florida, the Black Voters Matter Fund, Common Cause and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly spoken out against similar Republican-backed measures in state legislatures across the US.

By the end of March, GOP lawmakers had introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states, according to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice. Most are aimed at curbing mail-in voting, after historic turnout in 2020 elections during the coronavirus pandemic saw the election of Mr Biden and a shift of the balance of power in Congress towards Democratic control.

Dozens of bills are attempt to strip election oversight from election officials and put it into the hands of lawmakers, who would then have authority to disrupt elections and the reporting of results, according to a report from a group of voting rights advocates.

Republicans – emboldened by former President Donald Trump’s “stolen election” lies and spurious legal battles to overturn the results – have claimed that their proposals are an effort to preserve “voter integrity” and “voter confidence” by addressing “voting irregularities”, despite multiple vote audits that affirmed the results and a lack of evidence from the former president’s own campaign and administration showing any widespread voter fraud.

On Thursday, Mr DeSantis – a staunch ally of Mr Trump – told Florida voters that “your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency”.

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