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DeSantis signs bill creating one of the nation’s only election police units

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday approved the creation of a new stand-alone election police force designed to crack down on voter fraud in the nation’s third-largest state.

The Republican governor had proposed the creation of a special unit to tackle election crimes as he came under pressure from some Republicans to do a full-blown audit of the 2020 election even though former President Donald Trump had little trouble winning Florida.

“I don’t think there’s any other place in the country that you should have more confidence that your vote counts than in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said Monday during the bill signing event at a sports bar north of the Tampa Bay area.

The new law will create an “Office of Election Crimes and Security” in the Department of State and also will authorize the use of additional investigators who work in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Legislators set aside more than $2.6 million and 25 positions for the two agencies.

But the measure was watered down from one that initially had local election officials warning it was a “recipe for disaster.” The first version of the bill would have required voters to place additional identification requirements on mail-in ballots starting in the 2024 elections and to use an extra envelope. Local elections supervisors warned this would lead to voter confusion. Instead legislators agreed to have state election officials do a study and return with recommendations.

Democrats opposed the creation of the new election police and said it was unneeded.

“Even the governor has said that Florida’s 2020 election was secure. Yet this new election crime task force has been developed to solve a problem that does not exist,” said Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson (D-Gainesville) in a statement. “Its implementation will put up additional barriers to voting and targets communities of color. This bullying tactic will intimidate and immobilize workers, families, and everyday people.”

Republicans throughout this year’s legislative session did not produce any evidence of widespread fraud but cited cases that have cropped up recently, including news reports that have highlighted voters having their registration being changed and a handful of voters casting ballots in multiple states.

Other parts of the bill would make “ballot harvesting” a felony while another section would mandate that election supervisors screen voter rolls on a yearly basis to look for voters who may have moved or are no longer eligible. The Florida agency responsible for issuing driver’s licenses would be required to notify state elections officials monthly if they issued a license to noncitizens who are in the country legally.

The bill also changes the name of drop boxes to “secure ballot intake stations” which would allow Republicans to suggest they got rid of them — a position pushed by Trump. But drop boxes would still be allowed as long as they are supervised.

This the marks the second year in a row that Florida Republicans have made wholesale changes to the state’s election laws. Florida had a smooth election in 2020 with DeSantis even boasting that the state had shed its reputation as a laughing stock.

But amid Trump’s false assertions that the 2020 election was rigged, DeSantis and legislators in 2021 passed a law that imposed new restrictions on vote-by-mail and banned local elections officials from accepting outside grants to help with elections.

In March, a federal judge ruled that last year’s measure put restrictions on voters that were unconstitutional and discriminated against minority voters. Florida has appealed the decision, which also requires the state to get permission before it enacts future changes in three areas, including the use of drop boxes.

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