A new bill in Florida will be establishing an Office of Election Crimes and Security, a first-of-its-kind office in the Sunshine State that will keep an eye on election fraud.
The Republican-backed bill, S.B. 524, passed in the Republican-controlled Florida House on Wednesday in a 76-41 vote, handing a victory to Gov. Ron DeSantis after the state Senate had approved the measure last week in a 24-14 vote.
“The bill would create an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Florida State Department and authorize hiring 15 investigators to run a voter fraud hotline and vet claims of election crimes. Ten sworn law enforcement agents would be assigned to investigate fraud as part of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which includes the Capitol Police and other statewide operations,” NBC News reported.
The measure aims “to make sure the resources are there so there is no potential fraud slipping through the cracks,” GOP state Rep. Daniel Perez, who sponsored the bill, said on the House floor.
He noted it would cost about $3.7 million which is much less than the $5.7 million version that DeSantis had proposed in his budget and which would have had a voter fraud police force consisting of 52 people.
The bill would require election officials “to update voter roll lists with greater frequency and require the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to give election officials a monthly list of people whose IDs indicate they aren’t U.S. citizens,” NBC News noted.
The measure will also significantly raise existing penalties such as increasing the criminal and financial costs for fraudulent actions and breaking election laws as well as making ballot harvesting a felony.
Democrats and other critics vocally opposed the bill.
“The only thing I can think is we are motivated by the ‘Big Lie,’ ” spouted state Sen. Lori Berman said, according to Florida Politics. “We know voter fraud is extremely rare. I just don’t understand why we are going to be taking our taxpayer money and creating this quote ‘police force.’ ”
“This anti-voter freedom act is a solution in search of a problem,” said Democratic Rep. Kamia Brown on the House floor.
But GOP lawmakers pushed back on the criticism.
“Our job is to make sure our elections are as secure as possible, and you want to know why? Our constituents are demanding it,” state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“There are people that doubt the integrity of elections,” Rep. Tommy Gregory argued. “It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you sit on. You have to recognize the danger that that presents.”
The new office – the first of its kind in the nation – would oversee the Secretary of State’s voter fraud hotline and will reportedly “have the authority to initiate independent inquiries. Each year, they would have to submit a report on their activities to the governor and Legislature,” the Tampa Bay Times noted.
“In 2020, a year in which 18.1 million ballots were cast in statewide primaries and the general election that included nearly 300 races, the hotline received 262 complaints and referred 75 to police or prosecutors,” the outlet reported.
DeSantis is expected to sign S.B. 524 into law and much of it will go into effect immediately.
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