Lawsuits challenging Florida’s new voting law argue it was politically motivated

Text messages between state GOP chairman, bill sponsor released as discovery material

Text messages between state GOP chairman, bill sponsor released as discovery material

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A record 4.8 million Floridians voted by mail in the 2020 election, and because a single request for an absentee ballot is good for two election cycles, they’ll be getting absentee ballots again in 2022.

That’s something Republicans wanted to avoid. Text messages from Joe Gruters, the Florida GOP chairman, say grandfathering in those absentee ballot requests would be devastating to some Republican candidates.

In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 90, which will make it harder for Floridians to cast a ballot by mail. It was passed due to concerns about voting security.

The bill does not allow ballots to be mailed to a voter unless they request it. It also limits the use of drop boxes and adds more ID requirements for anyone requesting an absentee ballot.

Democrats have criticized it as a return to Jim Crow tactics. Republicans have said it was needed to cut down on cheating.

Brad Ashwell of All Voting is Local sees the law as a backlash to the 2020 election.

“Historic numbers of Black and Hispanic voters voting by mail. “It was really the first election in recent memory that Democrats did better at vote by mail than Republicans,” Ashwell said.

Several lawsuits are challenging SB 90 in court.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of groups representing women, Black voters and retired people, argues that the bill was politically motivated and designed to keep people from casting their ballots -- especially people of color.

Text messages between Gruters and Blaise Ingoglia, the Republican House bill sponsor, were released as part of discovery material.

In the text thread, Gruters says a Sarasota school board member “got killed” in 2020 because “they have 20,000 more absentee voters.” He also says that despite spending $100,000 and $10 million spent by then-President Donald Trump’s campaign, they could not cut down the lead.

Emails also show the chief attorney to the Republican Party of Florida suggested language to use in the bill, while an affiliate of the conservative Heritage Foundation also reached out to give input.

In a statement, Ingoglia said, “I had an open door policy and listened to everyone. Some ideas we took, and many were discarded. The legislature wrote this bill. Any suggestion otherwise is not accurate. Ultimately I’m proud of what the Florida Legislature passed.”

Ingoglia told News4Jax that he thinks allowing requests for an absentee ballot to stand for two election cycles is too long, and he said it was not a partisan decision.

A request for comment from Gruters was not returned by time of publication.

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I-TEAM and general assignment reporter