Florida state lawmakers passed new legislation on Wednesday establishing a first-of-its-kind elections police force just two months after Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed the idea.
In January, DeSantis asked lawmakers for around $6 million to fund a 52-person police force to “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws. The Florida House and Senate later approved roughly $2.5 million for the Office of Election Crimes and Security, The Washington Post reported.
The new agency will have a staff of 25 and will be part of the State Department. Gov. DeSantis is likely to sign the new bill into law.
“It’s drastically improved from what the governor wanted, but I don’t believe we should have an elections police force at all,” said Joe Scott, the Broward County elections supervisor. “These are people who will be looking for crimes where there are none. That has the potential to intimidate a lot of voters and the organizations who try to help voters.”
The legislation also makes “ballot harvesting” — the act of gathering ballots and depositing them at an elections office or drop box — a felony, punishable with five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
“So now we’re criminalizing certain acts around the elections process that most folks, particularly in the Black community, have long held as a way to assist those in need,” argued Genesis Robinson, political director of a voting rights advocacy group. “To spend time in jail for simply trying to be a good neighbor, that’s a problem.”
Additionally, the bill compels elections supervisors to scrap voter rolls each year, and has a $1,000 fine for changing a voter’s party registration without consent.
“The whole point of this bill is to deter people from committing fraud,” state Rep. Daniel Perez, a Republican from Miami-Dade County. “We’re trying to stop the bad actors.”
If signed into law, the force will be the first of its kind in the United States.
“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,” DeSantis said during his State of the State address earlier this year, according to the Post. “This will facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws and will provide Floridians with the confidence that their vote will matter.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden said future elections will be “set up” in an attempt to “alter the outcome” if his signature “voting rights” legislation isn’t passed.