The Florida Senate approved a voting legislation package proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday, which would create a police agency dedicated to investigating election fraud.
The law was adopted on a party-line vote by the chamber, with virtually all Republicans voting in favor. Legislators in the House are debating related legislation.
DeSantis, a Republican, advocated the creation of an election police force last year, citing unnamed suspicions of fraud that gathered steam in the GOP after former President Donald Trump falsely claimed that his reelection was stolen.
The governor, who is campaigning for reelection and is being touted as a potential presidential contender in 2024, has lauded Florida’s 2020 election as “smooth” while also stating that tougher restrictions are required to avoid malfeasance.
Voter fraud is uncommon and easily discovered. Election authorities and experts agree that there was no fraud that might have influenced the outcome of the previous presidential election. “What exactly are we terrified of here?” Sen. Travis Hutson, a Republican who sponsored the bill, urged legislators during a brief discussion on Friday.
“Are we concerned that our elections will be too secure?” The bill would establish an Office of Election Crimes and Security inside the Department of State to investigate and analyze claims of fraud.
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The governor would be compelled to designate a team of special officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement committed to investigating election law infractions.
The governor is now authorized by state law to appoint officials to investigate infractions of election law, but he is not required to do so. Democrats contended that the proposal is intended to appease a faction of the Republican Party that feels the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
Some critics argue that the legislation is unneeded since local prosecutors can handle fraud cases. “We all know Florida had a fantastic election; why are we doing this?”
“The only reason I can think of is that we’re inspired by the Big Lie, which is that elections countrywide did not take place properly, but we know that’s not true,” said Democrat Sen. Lori Berman.
The measure would also make “ballot harvesting,” or the gathering of finished votes by a third party, a criminal offense. Under the initiative, fines for certain election law infractions would be increased, and election supervisors would be forced to undertake more frequent voter list maintenance.
The bill is a follow-up to a voting law passed by Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature and signed by DeSantis last year, which changed the rules on ballot drop boxes and required a driver’s license number, state ID number, or the last four digits of a Social Security number to request a mail ballot. After being challenged by voting rights organizations, last year’s measure is now the subject of a court trial.