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GOP Election Bill in Florida Aims to Make It Harder for Gen Z to Vote

The bill "came out of nowhere" and passed a committee vote within 24 hours of introduction, one Democratic lawmaker said.

Voters fill out their ballots as they vote at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center polling station on October 21, 2020, in Miami, Florida.

Florida Republican state senators have advanced a new elections bill that would create additional burdens for a number of voting groups — particularly college and university students.

Senate Bill 7050 was submitted on Monday and forwarded by the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee for full consideration by the state Senate just 24 hours later, giving the public very little time to comment on the legislation.

“This bill came out of nowhere,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D). “This is a 98-page elections bill that was filed with 24-hour notice to be heard at first committee.”

The bill would bar people from voting by mail if they don’t have a verified Social Security number, a valid state-issued driver’s license or a Florida ID card. Those stipulations could deter thousands of college students who attend school in Florida, especially students from out of state who don’t have licenses or ID cards, or whose verified Social Security information might be elsewhere.

Under the bill’s rules, students who lack these documents but have other forms of acceptable ID would have to vote in person.

The provision would affect “tens of thousands of students from out of state,” said Jayden D’Onofrio, president of Florida Voters of Tomorrow, adding that many would soon be “moving here for the fall semesters and will not have a Florida ID or Florida driver’s license and will now be required to get that in order to register.”

Other provisions of the bill would likely disenfranchise people of color in the state. The legislation would require third-party groups that register voters — which are instrumental in registering Black, Latinx and young voters across Florida — to register themselves with the state after each general election cycle. Such groups would have to provide receipts to each person they register, an action that could significantly lengthen the registration process. The bill would also increase fines for such organizations if they accidentally violate state laws on voter registration.

“It makes it much less likely that third-party groups are going to continue to try to register voters, if they think they might have to pay a $500 or $1,000 fine for each person that somehow they don’t get quite right by these new state rules,” said University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett.

The bill also creates confusion for voters by changing what is written on voter registration cards, adding a phrase stating that the issuance of such a card doesn’t necessarily mean a person is legally allowed to vote in Florida.

The provision puts the burden of determining one’s registration status on voters, especially those who have been ineligible to vote in prior elections (such as those who were once convicted of a felony in the state). It also shifts blame away from the state if a card is sent to a resident who is not actually eligible to vote — and the wording will likely sow doubt about who is actually registered, making even people who are eligible think twice before voting.

Although the measure is moving fast in the state Senate, it has not yet been introduced in the state House of Representatives, though some observers have said that it will likely be introduced soon.

The bill comes as GOP-controlled state legislatures across the country have introduced a wave of measures aimed at targeting young voters. An election bill that passed into law in Ohio, for example, eliminates a day of early voting, shortens the deadline to apply for and return mail-in ballots, and limits each county (regardless of population size) to having a single drop-box for returning ballots. The new law also reduces the number of acceptable IDs a person can use to vote.

“If allowed to go into effect, each of these new provisions will make it more difficult — if not impossible — for Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Disabled youth of color in Ohio to cast votes and to have those votes counted,” read a statement from Civic Influencers, a nonpartisan group that aims to increase youth voting and civic power, specifically among Black, Indigenous and youth of color (BIYOC).

Voting rights groups say GOP-authored bills like these are specifically targeting young people, who are generally more progressive, and thus are a threat to Republicans. Even if state proposals to restrict voting fail, it’s likely that Republicans are merely testing the waters, and it’s possible that such legislation will be resubmitted — and potentially passed — in the future.

“When these ideas are first floated, people are aghast,” Chad Dunn, the co-founder and legal director of the UCLA Voting Rights Project, told The New York Times. “Then, six, eight, 10 years later, these terrible ideas become law.”

The bill also comes as many conservative pundits have pushed for raising the voting age in response to Gen Z overwhelmingly supporting Democrats in the 2022 midterm election.

“The fact that these youth voters are coming in so strong in an off-year is very concerning. It looks like they’ve been brainwashed,” said Fox News’s Jesse Watters after the election.

“Raise the voting age to 21,” said far right anti-Muslim activist Brigitte Gabriel on social media. “We were promised a red wave and we got a red puddle.”

Young voters should pay close attention to threats to their voting rights, Smith College professor Loretta Ross told Ms. magazine earlier this year.

“Gen Z voters should take voter suppression threats extremely seriously,” Ross said. “The Gen Z voters that [Republicans] are scared of are their own children, are their neighbors’ children. They can’t hide in their gated communities from their own children.”

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