Florida election bill dies quickly after political firestorm

‘We had a conversation, but it was a short conversation, and that’s it,’ Florida House Speaker Paul Renner told reporters.


TALLAHASSEE – After briefly sparking a political firestorm at the Florida Capitol, legislation that could have brought back the state’s primary runoffs and imposed new limits on ballot drop boxes has quietly died. 

The measure was unveiled late Monday but postponed two days later in the House committee that proposed it.

By Thursday evening, House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said it wouldn’t be heard. 

But what a short life it lived. 

“It was worth having the conversation,” Renner said late Thursday. “But I think I heard Carly Simon singing in the background, ‘you must think this bill is about you,’ because we certainly had a lot of feedback from people who thought it was.” 

Plenty of heat over runoffs

The measure drew heated pushback from two senators who are former Florida Republican Party chairs, Joe Gruters of Sarasota and Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, who condemned it as costly and intended to hurt conservative candidates. 

Many also saw it as likely helping establishment Republicans maintain more control over upcoming elections, including the 2026 race to succeed Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Reviving runoffs, not widely used since the 2000 election, would mean that the top two vote-getters in the primary would have to meet in a second, runoff election to assure that a party’s nominee gained at least 50% of the vote. 

Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, viewed as a potential candidate for governor, condemned the bill. 

And U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Panhandle Republican firebrand, implied that unnamed sources were using it to blunt his political future, which many think could include a run for governor. He said on social media, however, he isn’t thinking of doing that. 

Renner acknowledged the controversy stirred by the bill, adding that the measure is likely shelved for the session, which is set to end in just over two weeks. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office, through conservative news site Florida’s Voice, which provides an unfiltered platform for the governor, said it was blindsided by the bill. Others, though, raised doubts about such a sweeping measure rolling out without input from the governor and his staff. 

Elections bill proposes overhaul Florida House election bill sparks debate over drop boxes, 2026 gubernatorial runoffs

A ‘conversation, but it was a short conversation’

“We had a conversation, but it was a short conversation, and that’s it,” Renner told reporters. Asked if he’d declare the bill dead, Renner said, “Yeah, I think so. People have to be on board with it and think it’s a good idea.” 

While the return of runoffs animated Republican leaders, voting advocates raised concerns about the measure’s goal of limiting ballot drop-boxes ahead of the 2024 elections.

The bill would have confined drop-boxes to a county elections supervisor’s office, branch offices and early voting sites, barring them from city halls, civic centers, courthouses and fairgrounds that are not early voting sites. 

“We’re encouraged that Speaker Renner and other leaders weren’t willing to play last-minute games with the election process this year,” said Brad Ashwell, with All Voting is Local, a nonpartisan, voting rights advocacy organization. 

“The overlooked provisions in this bill that would have dramatically reduced vote-by-mail drop boxes this election cycle presented the most immediate threat to voters. We are still concerned that these provisions could be amended to other bills,” he added. 

John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport


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