TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a bill creating a police force dedicated to prosecuting voter fraud and other election crimes, which includes a top Republican priority after former President Donald Trump had made false claims about his re-election.
The new law comes after the Republican governor made electoral legislation a priority earlier this year and urged the Republican-controlled statehouse to create the police unit while states reevaluate their own electoral systems following Trump’s baseless allegations.
DeSantis, who is running for re-election and is widely considered a potential presidential nominee for 2024, has both praised the last election as smooth and suggested that more rules were needed to prevent fraud, underscoring Trump’s continued influence over Republican policy-making. Critics deemed the law politically motivated and unnecessary, arguing that local prosecutors could handle election crimes.
At a signing ceremony Monday at a sports bar in Spring Hill, Fla., DeSantis justified the need for a new law enforcement unit and suggested that existing law enforcement agencies may not be equipped or prepared to thoroughly investigate fraud cases.
“Some of them might not care that much about the election stuff. I think it was mixed how those reactions are going to be. So we just want to make sure that all the laws that are on the books are enforced,” he said.
Voter fraud is rare, typically occurs in isolated cases and is usually uncovered. An Associated Press investigation into the 2020 presidential election found fewer than 475 potential cases of voter fraud out of 25.5 million ballots cast in the six states where Trump and his allies contested his loss to President Joe Biden.
Republicans across the country have stressed the need to restore public confidence in elections, passing multiple election laws over the past two years aimed at introducing new rules for mail-in and early voting methods popular in 2020.
The law creates an Office of Voting Crimes and Security under the Florida Department of State to review allegations of fraud and conduct preliminary investigations. DeSantis must appoint a group of special agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate election law violations.
Current state law allowed the governor to appoint officers to investigate violations of the election law, but did not require him to do so.
The law also increases the penalties for collecting completed ballots by a third party, often referred to as ballot picking, to become a crime. It provides fines for certain violations of voting rights and requires election officials to maintain electoral rolls more frequently.
Democrats, the minority party in the state legislature, have criticized the bill as a way for DeSantis to appeal to Republican voters who believe the 2020 election results were fraudulent while the governor is flirting with a presidential nomination of his own.
“The so-called DeSantis Election Reform Act is a continued attack by the Republican Party to create public distrust in the integrity of our elections. The bill is unnecessary and a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Democrat Tracie Davis said.
In late March, a federal judge scrapped portions of a sweeping election law passed last year in a harsh ruling that claimed the state’s Republican-dominated government was repressing black voters and ordered attempts to pass similar new legislation over the next decade to write must have court approval.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker overturned a provision in last year’s law that restricted when people could use a Dropbox to submit their ballots, along with a section that prohibited anyone from engaging with people waiting to vote. He also blocked a section that established new rules for voter-registration groups, including one requiring people who work on voter registration to submit their names and permanent addresses to the state.
The DeSantis administration is working to reverse Walker’s sentence.
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