The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

DeSantis signs law allowing him to run for president while remaining governor

The legislation is part of sweeping new legislation overhauling Florida’s election laws

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis greets guests after a speech in National Harbor, Md., on April 21. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Wednesday that allows him to run for president while still serving as the Sunshine State’s governor — a move that came on the same day he filed paperwork to officially campaign for the Republican nomination.

The measure is part of a bill that also includes sweeping new restrictions on how third-party registration groups operate, drawing criticism from Democrats who say the legislation will negatively affect efforts to enroll more minority voters.

The changes amount to the third overhaul of state election laws in as many years and comes even as DeSantis and his allies say Florida’s elections are well run. Proponents contend the measures are nonetheless needed to make elections more secure.

Republican lawmakers argue that existing Florida election statutes already allow DeSantis to seek the presidency but that the new legislation was nonetheless needed as a clarification. The current law states that no official can qualify for another “state, district, county or municipal” public office if the term overlaps with their current position.

Anna Eskamani, a Democratic state representative from Orlando, said DeSantis was working to “bend laws in his favor.” Republicans hold a supermajority in the legislature and recently ushered through a range of proposals — including a new six-week abortion ban and an expansion of the death penalty — that critics say were designed to buoy DeSantis’s presidential platform.

He was reelected last year by a double-digit margin.

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate for someone to make this commitment to run for national office while he maintains his job at home,” Eskamani said. “We have too much to do in Florida that requires 100 percent of your undivided attention.”

DeSantis made international headlines last year when he announced his new election crime unit had made its first arrests. Nonetheless, the cases have stumbled in court. Several have been dismissed, and others have resulted in plea deals that resulted in no jail time. Defendants said they received voter ID cards, which led them to believe they had the right to vote.

Unlike the last two years, when DeSantis held media events to herald his signature on the new laws, the latest action was not done in public. His office sent an email late Wednesday afternoon, two hours after he officially filed to run for president, saying DeSantis had approved the law.

He was scheduled to appear later in the day at a Twitter Spaces event and then on Fox News to publicize his entry into the GOP presidential primary.

Under the new law, third-party voter registration groups will be required to register for each new voting cycle and provide receipts to those they help enroll. The organizations frequently work in marginalized communities to help citizens register. The legislation also reduces the amount of time organizations have to submit voter registration applications from 14 to 10 days.

Violations can incur fines, which were capped at $1,000 a few years ago, to as much as $250,000.

LaVon Bracy, the democracy director with Faith in Florida, an organization that has helped thousands of people register to vote, said the new rules and fines could force groups like hers to shut down.

“It’s the worst voter suppression bill Florida has come up with,” Bracy said. “I feel the goal is to put third-party voter registration groups out of business.”

Backers said the new requirements are necessary to maintain the integrity of Florida’s elections.

“Florida’s been a model of election integrity and efficiency, but there’s always room for improvement,” state Rep. Lawrence McClure (R) said during a debate on the House floor. He said the new law will “streamline” voter registration “while ensuring bad actors are held accountable.”

Voting rights groups sued DeSantis over changes in a 2021 law that limited ballot drop boxes and also restricted who could return a voter’s mail-in ballot, as well as how many ballots one person could turn in to an elections office. A federal judge in Florida struck down most of that law last year, saying it ran “roughshod over the right to vote” and unfairly targeted minorities.

A federal appeals court overturned that ruling last month.