A Florida Republican on Election Integrity and Trump’s Fraud Claims
Byron Donalds, a newly elected congressman, says Republicans are trying to secure elections, not suppress votes. And he disputes Donald Trump’s influence on trust.,
In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, Republicans have pushed sweeping changes to voting laws across the country, using false claims of voter fraud as their justification. Even in Florida, a state Donald J. Trump won easily, Republicans enacted a more targeted overhaul of elections law in lock step with Mr. Trump’s allegations. Several voting rights groups have sued the state, claiming that the new measures disenfranchise voters in the name of appeasing the former president.
Representative Byron Donalds, a newly elected Florida Republican, believes the reaction to the new law is misguided and overblown. In an interview with The New York Times, he sought to explain Republican actions as distinct from Mr. Trump’s false claims, and in line with voter concerns. He argued that his state’s new law, and similar ones across the country, would inspire renewed confidence in the election process.
Mr. Donalds won his House seat after serving in the Florida Legislature. He grew up in Brooklyn and worked in finance and banking before entering politics.
The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
What did you think of how the 2020 election went in Florida? Did you think it was administered properly, with no evidence of fraud?
It was administered very properly. We had the best election laws in the country. Our secretary of state or local officials follow the law, as you know, as it’s written, to a T, and we were pretty much done by 10 o’clock that night.
Do you believe the false claims by former President Trump that the 2020 election was rigged?
I think what happened is that in several key counties and key states, election law was not followed. That’s clear. It’s crystal clear. You have a federal judge in Michigan that said as much. You have two counties in Wisconsin where the local election officials chose not to follow election laws and cited Covid-19 as the reason. You have a State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that did not follow election law written by the state legislature there. You had the issues in Arizona, you had the consent decree in Georgia — that’s clear violations of the Constitution.
Do you think, as former President Trump states, this amounts to widespread fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election?
When you violate election law, and you have other bodies or other positions in our governmental apparatus that do not follow the written law, that leads to problems.
So I just want to make sure I have this straight. You think that those problems happened elsewhere in the country, but not in Florida?
Because in Florida, we followed our law.
The Florida Legislature, where you once served, just passed an election reform measure. Why was that necessary if there was no fraud?
The right to vote is sacrosanct. We all believe that. And the security of that ballot is also sacrosanct.
And there should not be some other party that comes in between the voter casting their ballot and the election officer receiving that ballot and counting it. So I think getting rid of ballot harvesting is a great thing that we did. The other thing was that we tightened up the process of our people getting mail-in ballots.
You know, I think the process we have now going forward in our state is actually a good one. Everybody’s free to request their ballot. They prove who they are, that’s a good thing. They receive their ballot, they vote. It’s all about security.
Ballot harvesting was already outlawed in parts of the state. And new lawsuits claim that the real impact of the identification measures will be another barrier suppressing Black and Latino voters. What’s your response to that?
I don’t pay any attention to those claims. I think the state will win in court. Voter ID claims — about how it disenfranchises minority communities — have been widely debunked. It is actually quite simple to get an ID. You’re talking to somebody who’s had a photo ID since he was 13 years old, when I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. It’s not the issue that it’s always made up to be, you know, by my friends on the other side of the aisle.
In Florida, Republicans have taken advantage of things like ballot harvesting. They’ve made inroads with Black and Latino voters to win elections. Is there any risk this new law hurts your own party?
No, I haven’t heard that.
It was Republicans who brought back ballot harvesting in Florida under former Governor Bush and embraced widespread mail-in voting. What changed from then to now?
I mean, OK, but that doesn’t mean I have to support it.
I understand. I’m interested in what you think changed in the party from then to now, for a whole community of Republicans to say that’s something that they don’t support?
I think the premise of your question is wrong. It’s not about what changed in the party. Political parties are made up of people, individuals who vote and politicians and candidates who run for office. That’s the basis of a political party. There’s no monolithic line of thinking that shifts every two to four years. That’s not the case. I can’t speak to what happened when former people were elected. I can speak to myself and what I’ve done.
Amid months of false claims by former President Donald J. Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states are marching ahead to pass laws making it harder to vote and changing how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.
- A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become a central issue in American politics. The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning law and justice institute at New York University, counts 361 bills in 47 states that seek to tighten voting rules. At the same time, 843 bills have been introduced with provisions to improve access to voting.
- The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
- More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
- Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would likely face steep legal challenges.
- Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
- Texas: The next big move could happen here, where Republicans in the legislature are brushing aside objections from corporate titans and moving on a vast election bill that would be among the most severe in the nation. It would impose new restrictions on early voting, ban drive-through voting, threaten election officials with harsher penalties and greatly empower partisan poll watchers.
- Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. Iowa has also imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day. And bills to restrict voting have been moving through the Republican-led Legislature in Michigan.
Do you think that those laws would have happened without the false claims from former President Trump about a rigged election? It does seem to stretch belief to say none of these new laws are related to politics and Trump. Is that what we’re saying?
Looking at our election process is something, specifically in Florida, we continuously do. We passed an election law before 2020. We passed it in 2018 and 2019. We have reforms, I believe, in 2014 or 2015. So Florida, we’ve always been looking at our election laws, doing everything we can to make sure it’s a better law going forward.
So as the supposition of your question, that we anticipated what Donald Trump might say, in the winter of 2020. And that’s why we made election law changes in 2019 and 2018. Come on, seriously?
Have you followed any of the new election laws in other states?
Yes, I think Georgia actually has a very good law. And frankly, it’s sad and, in my view, disgusting that the president referred to it as Jim Crow. It cheapens the history in our country with respect to actual Jim Crow, a disgusting relic of our past. And to try to equate that to what Georgia did, to me, is just completely illogical. It reeks of just the nastiest politics that you could ever want to bring up, to try to divide Americans and divide Georgians.
How can you be so sure that these laws are strong enough to stop voter fraud but weak enough to not create new barriers for communities who have had it hard to vote?
Those are not on the same playing field, they simply are not.
When it comes to these extended lines that have happened in the past in Georgia — I’ve watched the news, too — you have to go look at the local official, what did they do and what did they not do to prepare for people wanting to cast ballots. The one thing we have to acknowledge, and you have to be honest about this, you have seen a rise in Black voting in our country in the last 15 years. And that is a great thing — as a Black man, I’m 100 percent behind that. But it is the responsibility of local officials to make sure that they have the additional polling places they need or that their equipment is sound. And I will tell you, Georgia’s law, or Florida’s law, provides so much access to the ballots, far more than in the state of New York, far more than the state of Delaware.
You’re framing these new measures as a way to restore confidence in the democratic process and system. But what I don’t hear you saying — or any Republican, really — is that they think the former president impacted trust in that system. Do you think that his words have negatively impacted trust in the democratic system?
No. No, I don’t. I think if you look at what the president has talked about, the president has talked about wanting to make sure that the elections are secure. That’s what he’s talked about more than anything else.
I think we both know the former president has said a lot more than that.
Four years ago, this time, what were we talking about? About how the Russians tamper with our elections, and that went on for two and a half years. I don’t have a problem with these political debates. Let’s have them. That’s great. But all I’m saying is, let’s — let’s understand the entire history.
I was asking about Trump’s impact on trust.
All that matters: Is it easier for white people or Black people, whether they are rich, middle income or poor, to cast ballots in the state of Georgia? And Florida? Yes or no? Is it easier? The answer is yes. Is it less easy for them to cast the same ballot in Delaware or New York? The answer is yes.
Last question: Do you see the former president’s rhetoric as at least connected to the events that happened on January 6, even if you don’t see them affecting trust in the democratic system overall?
No, I don’t.