Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a special police force that would be the first to oversee elections in the country, The Washington Post reports.
DeSantis’ plan would create the Office of Election Crimes and Security in the Department of State, which reports to DeSantis.
The governor asked the Republican-led legislature to provide nearly $6 million in funding to hire 52 people to “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws.
These investigators would be based in “field offices throughout the state” and respond to tips from “government officials or any other person.”
“To ensure that elections are conducted in accordance with the rule of law, I propose an election integrity unit whose sole focus will be the enforcement of Florida’s election laws,” he said during his State of the State speech. “This will facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws and will provide Floridians with the confidence that their vote will matter.”
Voter intimidation fears:
No other state has such an agency. Texas last year created an election integrity unit in the attorney general’s office but the office has fewer than 10 employees and doesn’t answer to the governor.
Voter fraud is extraordinarily rare and voting rights advocates worry that DeSantis’ plan will result in voter intimidation or harassment.
“There’s a reason that there’s no office of this size with this kind of unlimited investigative authority in any other state in the country, and it’s because election crimes and voter fraud are just not a problem of that magnitude,” Jonathan Diaz, a voting rights lawyer at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, told the Post. “My number one concern is that this is going to be used as a tool to harass or intimidate civic-engagement organizations and voters.”
GOP reaction tepid:
DeSantis’ proposal does not have a single sponsor in the state legislature.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls said the governor is unsure that existing law enforcement agencies are prepared to handle election crimes but he stopped short of endorsing the plan.
“We’re going to look at it, we’ll evaluate it and see what happens,” Sprowls said.
Election officials have also expressed concerns. Broward County Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott told the Post he worries the new unit would be “applied in a very partisan way.”
“It seems as if this is going to focus on a lot of grass-roots organizations that are out there trying to get people registered to vote, as well as people out there doing petition drives,” Scott said. “I think this is going to lead to people being intimidated if they’re civically involved. I don’t want people to be scared away from doing those kinds of things.”