Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) wants a new, specialty election crimes office to allow police to chase imaginary election fraud cases around the Sunshine State, the latest in months of crackdowns on voting rights in the wake of Donald Trump’s lies about election theft.
DeSantis, who faces a reelection battle in 2022 and a potential 2024 presidential run, has already signed one voter restriction package this year, during an exclusive Fox News segment in May.
Now, he says he wants even more voter restriction laws, including a election police force, even tougher criminal penalties for so-called “ballot harvesting” — that is, possessing more than two ballots — more restrictions on ballot drop boxes, and more frequent purges of voter rolls for deceased and newly-relocated voters.
Desantis’ spokesperson Christina Pushaw explained his rationale to TPM in an email after this story was published. “Governor DeSantis believes Floridians deserve real leadership on election integrity, which requires taking proactive steps to correct any identified vulnerabilities in Florida’s election administration before those vulnerabilities can be exploited to subvert our democratic institutions,” she said.
Let’s break this all down.
DeSantis didn’t point to any specific examples Wednesday of election crimes that would have been prevented, if only his proposed restrictions had been in place earlier. Nor did a spokesperson respond to TPM’s request for specific election crimes that have taken place in Florida over the last couple years.
But the tough-on-crime act from Florida’s governor is part of a nationwide political theater — an effort by Republican politicians to take up Donald Trump’s “election integrity” banner, even and especially if it means intimidating would-be voters with the prospect of criminal charges.
“If you see someone ballot harvesting, what do you do?” DeSantis said at an event filled with cheering supporters in West Palm Beach Wednesday. “If you call into the election office, a lot of times they don’t do anything.”
The governor has a solution to the non-existent problem.
“We are going to create a separate office at the state level solely dedicated to investigating and prosecuting election crimes in the state of Florida,” he said. “We’ll have sworn law enforcement officers as part of this, we’ll have investigators. We’ll have the statewide prosecutor that’s able to bring the cases. What’ll happen is, if someone’s ballot harvesting, you report it to these people, and this is their sole job.”
“I’ll guarantee you this, the first person that gets caught, no one’s going to want to do it after that,” DeSantis said at an event filled with cheering supporters in West Palm Beach Wednesday.
DeSantis didn’t provide further specifics, but Politico reported on one outlined proposal that it had obtained. It called for the creation of an “Office of Election Crimes and Security,” staffed by over 50 employees and funded with nearly $6 million.
There may not be many election shenanigans for this potentially new police force to chase — aside from, say, the occasional “ghost candidate” scandal — but DeSantis has a lot on his mind these days.
There’s his 2022 reelection, for one thing, and his widely rumored consideration of a 2024 presidential campaign. More recently, Trump confidante and pardon recipient Roger Stone threatened to run for governor against DeSantis if he did not pursue “a full audit of the Florida 2020 vote.”
Though Wednesday’s event was announced by the governor’s office, as the Tampa Bay Times noted, DeSantis bragged that Florida was on the cusp of having more registered Republicans than Democrats. At one point, he referred to the Biden administration as the “Brandon administration,” a reference to the phrase “Fuck Joe Biden.”
In addition to the election police squad, DeSantis said he wanted “ballot harvesting” to be a third-degree felony, rather than a misdemeanor. He also said he wanted a new law requiring that ballot boxes be restricted to locations “where they can be observed the whole time it’s open.” The boxes, he added, should be “taken off,” as soon as voting is done for the day, rather than being left outside overnight.
The proposed legislative package, the governor said, would make Florida “way number one by a long shot in anywhere in the country.”
DeSantis didn’t offer any specific examples of ballot drop box issues in Florida. But he did cite a curious story from Atlanta.
In that city, DeSantis said, “they go to all the drop box locations. Like, they visit 30 drop boxes. Obviously, how many ballots are you doing with 30 drop boxes. So that is totally unacceptable.”
A spokesperson for the governor did not respond to TPM’s questions about whether DeSantis was referring to a real incident.
But the anecdote sounded suspiciously familiar: The Georgia Republican Party alleged recently that cell phone data provided by the group True the Vote, the Tea Party “election integrity” organization, showed 279 cell phones that had been tracked to within 100 feet of a drop box location multiple times.
Thin gruel, to be sure. And authorities agree: The Georgia Bureau of Investigation found that the data “does not rise to the level of probable cause that a crime has been committed.”