Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday to create a police force dedicated to pursuing voter fraud and other election crimes, embracing a top priority of Republicans after former President Donald Trump’s claims that his reelection was stolen.
DeSantis, who is running for reelection and considered a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, made voting legislation a focus this year, pushing the Republican-controlled Legislature to create the policing unit in a speech where he referenced unspecified cases of voter fraud, which have become popular talking points in his party.
Republicans nationwide have stressed the need to restore public confidence in elections and have passed several voting laws in the past two years aimed at placing new rules around mail and early voting methods that were popular in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted in-person voting.
The law creates an Office of Election Crimes and Security under the Florida Department of State to review fraud allegations and conduct preliminary investigations. DeSantis is 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.
Existing state law allowed the governor to appoint officers to investigate violations of election law but did not require him to do so.
The law also increases penalties for the collection of completed ballots by a third party, often referred to as ballot harvesting, to a felony. It raises fines for certain election law violations and requires that election supervisors perform voter list maintenance on a more frequent basis.
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 he flirts with a presidential run of his own.
Late last month, a federal judge struck down portions of a sweeping election law passed last year in a ruling that alleged the state’s Republican-dominated government was suppressing Black voters, and ordered that attempts to write similar new laws in the next decade must have court approval. The DeSantis administration is working to reverse Walker’s ruling.
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