Florida Governor Ron DeSantis vowed on Wednesday to assemble an election police force tasked with investigating election crimes as part of a new spate of restrictive voting laws promoted by the Republican widely seen as a 2024 presidential hopeful.
DeSantis made the announcement at an event in West Palm Beach, where he unveiled the state's plan to establish an "Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State to investigate election crimes and fraud," according to a Wednesday press conference. "We are excited to say that next legislative session we are proposing another package of election integrity reforms that will make Florida the number one state for elections," the governor said in a statement. "I am excited that with this legislation, our state will be able to enforce election violations, combat voter fraud and make sure violators are held accountable. If potential violators know they will be held accountable, they will be much less likely to engage in improper conduct in the first place."
The GOP-backed proposal also sets out to "prohibit unsecure, haphazard drop box locations," require "timelines for supervisors of elections to clean the voter rolls of ineligible voters," and outlaw ballot harvesting – the practice of using third-party volunteers to pick up and deliver ballots on behalf of voters.
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During his press conference, DeSantis suggested that Florida's election system had been widely compromised in the 2020 election.
"There'll be people, if you see someone ballot harvesting, you know, what do you do? If you call into the election office, a lot of times they don't do anything," he said, without citing evidence. "If you know that, there's, you know, in Florida, it's Constitutionally mandated, only citizens are allowed to vote in Florida, and yet you see examples of people, they'll even check they're not citizens, and they'll still be given ballots."
According to the Associated Press, DeSantis' election police force will be tasked with both deterring crime and investigating it.
Earlier this year, Florida's GOP-backed legislature approved a sweeping "election security" measure apparently designed to crack down on voter fraud amid Donald Trump's erroneous conspiracy that the 2020 presidential election was marred by foul play at the ballots. The bill imposed stricter ID rules for voter registration, prevented voters who fail to request ballots from automatically receiving them, restricted ballot box usage to early voting hours, and more. DeSantis called it one of the "strongest election integrity measures in the country."
But Democrats and law experts widely criticized the measure as an attempt to suppress youth, eldery, and minority voters.
"The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color," Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, told AP News at the time. "It's a despicable attempt by a one party ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot. It's undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American."