WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – As elections across the country wrapped up, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday said he wants to create a statewide office that is dedicated to investigating and prosecuting election crimes in Florida.
DeSantis said the division would have law enforcement officers, investigators and a statewide prosecutor.
“What will happen is if someone’s ballot harvesting, you report it to these people and this is their sole job,” DeSantis said during a speech in West Palm Beach. “There’ll be specialists, they’re 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.”
DeSantis said he also wants to increase penalties for ballot harvesting — when a third party gathers and submits completed absentee or mail-in voter ballots — from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.
He also wants to require timelines for supervisors of elections to clean the voter rolls of ineligible voters and “prohibit unsecure, haphazard drop box locations in Florida.”
DeSantis said the “election integrity reform” proposals will be addressed in the next legislative session that begins in January.
Despite calling the 2020 election “the most transparent and efficient election anywhere in the country,” DeSantis has sought to tighten voting laws this year, a move critics call politically motivated.
In May, DeSantis signed Senate Bill 90, which makes it harder for Floridians to cast a ballot by mail and adds restrictions to drop boxes and where voters can drop off completed ballots. It also prohibits unattended ballot drop boxes and prohibits the possession of more than two mail ballots by a single person.
Elections supervisors have objected to the legislation, which proponents maintain is necessary to reduce fraud. Supervisors, however, point to evidence showing that fraud is extremely rare in elections in Florida and elsewhere.
Democrats have criticized it as a return to Jim Crow tactics.
Brad Ashwell of All Voting is Local sees the law as a backlash to the 2020 election.
“Historic numbers of Black and Hispanic voters voting by mail. “It was really the first election in recent memory that Democrats did better at vote by mail than Republicans,” Ashwell said.
Several lawsuits are now challenging SB 90 in court.
The lawsuit has received extra attention in recent days after the University of Florida said it would prohibit three professors from providing expert testimony in a lawsuit challenging a new law saying it goes against the school’s interest by conflicting with the administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney, Director of Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute said next year’s election will reveal how effective the legislation will be.
“It’s important to note the midterms are a year from this month. They are 12 months away. It’s going to be very consequential. That race includes Governor DeSantis’s race. Whether that is needed given Florida’s history or whether that’s going to have that deterrence, we’ll have to see,” Mullaney said.