DeSantis floats formation of police force to crack down on election crimes

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisOvernight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul Sen. Tim Scott rakes in nearly million in fourth quarter White House dismisses DeSantis calls to reverse decision on antibody therapies that don't work MORE (R) on Wednesday said he intends to form a statewide law enforcement body to crack down on election crimes, the latest effort by prominent Republicans to push for “election integrity” reforms since the 2020 election. 

The move by DeSantis, who is up for reelection next year and is believed to be mulling a 2024 presidential bid, comes after he touted Florida’s election process in 2020 as smooth and has shot down calls from some fellow Republicans for an audit of the results, which showed former President TrumpDonald TrumpDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors Former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz elected to Baseball Hall of Fame Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE winning the state by about 3 points.

“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. 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,” DeSantis said at an event that was ostensibly a press conference but was packed with his supporters.

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“I guarantee you this: The first person that gets caught, no one is going to want to do it again after that,” he added. 

Besides establishing the statewide office, DeSantis also vowed to crack down on the collection and submission of mail-in ballots by one person for other voters, a practice the GOP has derogatorily named “ballot harvesting." DeSantis’s proposal would increase the penalty for such an action from a misdemeanor to a felony.

The governor, who has seen his popularity surge in Florida as he leans into election reforms to tighten access to the ballot box and fights against coronavirus restrictions, said the formation of a statewide office is necessary to take the pressure off counties that deal with a slate of criminal offenses. 

“Now there’s going to be specialists who are going to understand what’s legal, what’s not legal. They’re going to have the ability to investigate any crimes involving the election, and I think that’s going to be something that’s very, very important,” he said.

DeSantis’s new effort comes months after he signed into law in May an array of voter restrictions, including curtailing voter access to absentee ballot drop boxes used by most Florida counties, mandating voters who want to cast absentee ballots to submit new requests every election cycle instead of every four years and prohibiting anyone besides election workers from giving food or water to voters waiting in line within 150 feet of a polling place.

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That law has drawn a slew of lawsuits that are winding their way through court.

The announcement is just the latest example of Republicans seizing on Trump’s call to bolster “election security” in light of his spurious claims of widespread fraud and irregularities in the 2020 race. 

DeSantis is also likely looking to protect his right flank in next year’s midterm elections.

While the first-term governor has emerged as a conservative darling, particularly over his opposition to vaccine and mask mandates, he has still resisted calls for an audit, leading to criticism from people like Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneOath Keeper charges renew attention on Trump orbit Democrats differ over how Biden should handle Jan. 6 anniversary Alex Jones suing Pelosi and Jan. 6 panel, planning to plead the Fifth MORE, a Trump ally who suggested over the weekend he could primary DeSantis next year in the absence of an audit.

Democrats, meanwhile, grumbled about the announcement but are powerless to stop DeSantis from their position in the minority in both chambers of the Florida legislature. 

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“More attacks on voting coming to Florida. Just like in 2020 we had elections last night in our state w/no issues,” tweeted state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D). “Why does our Governor keep creating partisan chaos. Why can’t we just focus on problems like housing, hunger, taxes, our environment & public transportation?”