TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers on Wednesday passed a set of election laws that would create a dedicated police force to prosecute election crimes, a proposal pushed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The GOP-controlled House approved the measure in a party-line vote with Republican support. The bill is now heading to the governor’s office, where it is expected to be signed into law.
DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, called for an election police unit in a speech last year where he referenced unspecified cases of fraud. Such allegations have become popular in parts of the GOP that have embraced former President Donald Trump’s false claims that his re-election was stolen due to widespread fraud.
Voter fraud is rare and generally detected. An Associated Press investigation of every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states contested by Trump — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — found fewer than 475 cases out of 25.5 million ballot papers. There is also consensus among election officials and experts that there was no fraud that could have impacted the results of the last presidential election.
The bill would create an Election Crimes and Security Bureau under the Florida Department of State that would review allegations of fraud and conduct preliminary investigations. DeSantis would be required to appoint a group of special officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who would be tasked with prosecuting violations of election law.
State law currently allows the governor to appoint officers to investigate election law violations, but does not require him to do so.
“You’re not going to maintain the gold standard of election integrity if you don’t constantly address the various ways criminals will seek to exploit loopholes in the system,” said Rep. Tommy Gregory, a Republican.
During about two hours of debate on Wednesday, Democrats argued that the measure would weaken confidence in the electoral system, given the rarity of voter fraud.
“What bills like this do is say there’s a problem with our electoral system that we’re trying to fix,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Democrat. “It perpetuates this concept that they shouldn’t be able to trust what’s going on in government. It’s a monster that will eat us alive if we let it.”
The proposal would also increase the penalties for the collection of completed ballots by a third party, often referred to as ballot harvesting, to a felony. It would increase fines for certain election law violations and election supervisors would have to perform more frequent maintenance of their voter lists, under the measure.
Critics said the bill was intended to allow DeSantis to appease Republicans who believe the 2020 election results were fraudulent and that he was unnecessary, noting that local prosecutors can handle cases of fraud.
“This is very clearly an attempt to satiate a certain grassroots sector that has been bombarded with misinformation about the 2020 election and the big lie,” said Brad Ashwell, Florida State director of the group. advocacy All Voting is Local.
Trump’s false fraud allegations have led to a wave of voting restrictions in Republican-controlled states.
Last year, DeSantis signed a bill establishing new ballot box rules and requiring a driver’s license number, state ID number, or the last four digits of a Social Security number to apply. postal voting, among others. This law is the subject of a federal lawsuit after a challenge from the groups of right to vote.