Florida lawmakers have backtracked on legislative language that threatened to ban giving voters food or drink while near a polling place, removing the ban from an amended version of an elections bill that was approved by a House committee on Thursday.
The original version of House bill 7041 forbade “giving or attempting to give any item” to a voter or “interacting or attempting to interact” with a voter within 150 feet of a polling place. But an amended version of the bill, approved by the state House Appropriations Committee, no longer includes either prohibition
However, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, argued that while the specific language is gone, it’s possible that handing out food and water could run afoul of the bill’s ban on “engaging in any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter.”
Ingoglia raised the example of a well-known politician, like Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, handing out food and water to voters without specifically asking for a voter’s support.
“If Ron DeSantis started walking up and down the line, handing out stuff to voters in line within the 150 feet, I’d dare to say your nominee would say he was trying to influence the vote,” he said.
Voting rights advocates have criticized Republican-led, legislative efforts in states to add new restrictions to voting. And President Joe Biden Biden specifically pointed to Georgia’s restrictions around handing out food and water to voters as part of his condemnation of those new laws.
But Ingoglia said that while he felt “Florida administered one of the smoothest” elections in the country last year, that “we should use every election that passes as an opportunity to look back and identify what we can do better.”
The 51-page Florida House bill makes sweeping changes to the state’s elections laws, including placing new restrictions on ballot drop boxes; changing the process for verifying voter signatures; requiring voters to apply to vote by mail more frequently; and banning officials from receiving private funds aimed at funding election expenses.
Some Democrats who opposed the bill still applauded Ingoglia for making some changes supported by voting-rights activists, even as they raised other concerns about the amended legislation.
The bill must pass through another committee vote before the state House gets a chance to approve it. The Republican state Senate is also working on its own overhaul of the state’s voting laws and a hearing on their bill was temporarily postponed this week.