Florida legislature passes bill limiting ballot access

2020 U.S. presidential election in Florida
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(Reuters) - Florida's legislature on Thursday passed a bill that makes it harder to access drop boxes and mail-in ballots, the latest Republican-led state to push for what activists say is voter suppression.

Republicans cite former President Donald Trump's claims that President Joe Biden stole the November election as reasons for the sweeping measures. Judges discredited such claims, made without evidence, in more than 60 lawsuits that failed to overturn the election result.

Democrats say the Republican measures are designed to lessen the impact of Black voters, whose heavy turnout helped propel Biden to victory and delivered Democrats two U.S. Senate victories in Georgia in January. Georgia passed major new voting restrictions in March.

The bill in neighboring Florida, also a political battleground, includes stricter requirements about drop box staffing and requires voters to apply more frequently for mail-in ballots.

The bill also stipulates a widening of the "no-solicitation" area around polling places and expands the definition of solicitations to include "the giving, or attempting to give, any item to a voter by certain persons." Rights groups warn that will dissuade activists from handing out water and food to voters standing in long lines in the often-sweltering state.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law.

Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer who is representing a coalition of civil rights groups suing Georgia over its voting restrictions, tweeted that the Florida business community should have stood up against the bill.

"These voter suppression laws are targeted at Black, Brown and young voters," Elias tweeted. "Bill now heads to Governor's desk. Watch this space for more news once it is signed."

A record 158 million people voted in the November elections, in part thanks to new rules that made voting easier during COVID-19 pandemic. New York University's nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice found 29 states and the District of Columbia passed laws and changed procedures to expand voting access during the health crisis.

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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