Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has just signed a new law this Monday that creates a new electoral police team, providing his state government a new option to investigate election fraud.
With the signature of the Republican governor, Florida has become one of the first states in the country to establish an election fraud unit, an extremely uncommon occurrence that has become a rallying point for some Republican supporters in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat.
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“I don’t believe there is any other state in the country where you should have more faith that your vote matters than Florida,” DeSantis said at a press conference before signing the bill.
DeSantis, who is up for reelection this year and considering a presidential run in 2024, signed the law to enhance his credentials with his party’s ultra-conservative fringe. Last week, DeSantis signed a slew of other contentious proposals, including two acts aimed against Disney and legislation restricting how schools and companies discuss race and gender.
The new bill is Florida’s second significant election law revision since the 2020 election, as Trump supporters demand greater voting restrictions and changes to election administration ahead of the midterm elections. Trump and his supporters incorrectly claim that massive election fraud contributed to his defeat in 2020.
That year, Trump easily won Florida, and Florida authorities, including DeSantis, have already stated that the 2020 election went well. Election fraud is quite uncommon. According to the Florida Secretary of State’s office, 262 election fraud allegations were filed for the 2020 election, with 75 being submitted to law enforcement or prosecutors.
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In that year’s presidential election, about 11 million Floridians voted. The new bill establishes a 15-person Office of Election Crimes and Security under the Florida Department of State, which is under DeSantis’ jurisdiction, to handle preliminary election fraud investigations. Furthermore, DeSantis is required to designate up to 10 law enforcement officials to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate election fraud.
DeSantis stated during a press conference on Monday that local election supervisors and prosecutors don’t always have the experience or tools to examine voting-related issues. He stated the extra cops will focus on election-related offenses.
“All we want to do is make sure that whatever laws are on the books are followed,” the governor stated. During legislative discussion, state Rep. Daniel Perez, a main proponent, stated that the merged program will cost $3.7 million. DeSantis has asked for about $6 million for a 52-strong force. In recent weeks, two states, Florida and Georgia, have taken steps to improve election crime policing.
The new Florida legislation also toughens up on anyone who break the state’s election regulations. Collecting and submitting more than two vote-by-mail votes on behalf of other voters becomes a crime. It used to be a criminal offense to do so. It also raises the penalties for groups that break voter registration regulations from $1,000 to $50,000.
The additional $50,000 punishment, according to Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, is a “direct danger” to her group. “It doesn’t give you a nice and comfortable feeling when you combine the increased fines with the additional election investigators,” she told CNN in March as state lawmakers discussed the bill.
The new rule also includes “the expense of any action linked to election administration” in an existing restriction on private donations. According to critics, this will cut off free legal support to election officials, who may face increased scrutiny as a result of the new law.
It also mandates that election supervisors clean voter rolls on a yearly basis rather than every two years, and it levies a $1,000 punishment for changing voters’ party registration without their knowledge. This clause was enacted in response to recent claims in South Florida that some senior voters’ party allegiance had been switched from Democrat to Republican without their knowledge.
DeSantis’ move comes after a court verdict on March 31 that deemed certain provisions of a previous Florida election legislation established in 2021 to be unlawful and unjustly targeting Black votes. Federal Judge Mark Walker also prevented the state from enacting any future election law changes that are identical to the measures he threw down in that order.
Officials in Florida have already filed notice with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that they intend to challenge the ruling. Walker’s decision is expected to be reversed by either the conservative 11th Circuit or the US Supreme Court, according to election law experts.