TALLAHASSEE, Fla — Florida lawmakers on Wednesday passed a voting law package that would create a police force dedicated to pursuing election crimes, a priority of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The measure will head to the governor for his signature.
DeSantis, who is running for reelection in Florida and is also considered 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 reelection 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 disputed by Trump — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — found fewer than 475 cases out of 25.5 million ballots cast. There is also consensus among election officials and experts that there was no fraud that could have impacted results in the last presidential election.
The bill would create an Office of Election Crimes and Security under the Florida Department of State that would review fraud allegations 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 pursuing the election law violations.
State law currently allows the governor to appoint officers to investigate violations of election law but does not require him to do so.
“Are we afraid of our elections being too secure?” Sen. Travis Hutson, a Republican sponsoring the bill, asked lawmakers last week when the bill passed the GOP-controlled Senate.
The proposal also would increase penalties for the collection of completed ballots by a third party, often referred to as ballot harvesting, to a felony. It would raise fines for certain election law violations and election supervisors would need to more frequently conduct maintenance of their voter lists, under the measure.
Critics have argued that the bill is intended as a way for DeSantis to appease Republicans who believe the 2020 Election results were fraudulent and said it is unnecessary, noting that local prosecutors can handle fraud cases.
“It is very clearly an attempt to satiate a certain sector of the base that has been bombarded with misinformation about the 2020 Election and the Big Lie,” said Brad Ashwell, Florida state director of the advocacy group All Voting is Local.
Trump's false claims of fraud have led to a wave of voting restrictions in Republican-controlled states.
Last year, DeSantis signed a bill that put new rules on ballot drop boxes and required a driver’s license number, state ID number or last four digits of a Social Security number to request a mail ballot, among other things. That law is the subject of a federal trial after a challenge from voting rights groups.