(Featured image provided by John Raoux/AP)
On Monday, April 25th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new bill into law intending to establish an election “police force.” Formally known as Senate Bill 524, it was first proposed by Desantis himself to the Florida Legislature, to which Republican lawmakers took the idea and made it into an official bill. The bill comes after the context of Republican candidate and former President Donald J. Trump losing the 2020 election, who alleged election fraud in several states despite not providing enough evidence that would have had a big enough impact to make him lose.
In the election, Trump easily won over Florida, and DeSantis among other Florida officials agree that the election went fine. Election fraud is also very rare in Florida, with the Florida Secretary of State reporting that it only received 262 fraud complaints out of a total of 11 million Floridians who voted in the 2020 election. However, despite this, DeSantis argues that more steps should be taken to ensure security in the state’s elections. “I don’t think there is any other place in the country where you should have more confidence that your vote counts than in the state of Florida,” stated DeSantis shortly before signing the bill.
Under the bill, a 25-person (with 10 of them being law enforcement officers) Office of Election Crimes and Security will be established to investigate voting irregularities and crimes, making Florida the first state with a unit specializing in election fraud. DeSantis claimed that local election investigators simply don’t have the expertise to look into these sorts of complaints and that specially appointed officers would serve their place. “We just want to make sure whatever laws are on the books that those laws are enforced,” said DeSantis.
The law also makes existing election violations more severe in their charges. For example, the act of submitting more than two mail ballots on the behalf of other voters will now be considered a felony when before it was a misdemeanor. Organizations that also violate election laws will receive a fine of $50,000 instead of the previous $1000. There will also be a new $1000 fine for any individual who switches a voter’s party affiliation without their consent. This comes after a report made in South Florida in which some elderly voters had their affiliations changed from Democratic to Republican without them knowing. Additionally, the law will also broaden its ban on private donations to include “the cost of any litigation related to the election administration.” All of these changes happened as soon as the governor signed the bill, meaning his own reelection campaign will be administered by the law’s provisions.
However, the law doesn’t come without criticism, with many critics saying that the bill’s extension of its private donation ban will prevent free legal assistance to election officials who could face scrutiny under it. Cecile Scoon, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, also condemned many of the changes in the bill, specifically calling the new $50,000 fine for organizations a “direct threat” to hers. “When you couple the increased fines with the new election investigators, it doesn’t give you a warm or cozy feeling,” explained Scoon.
The law might also face some legal trouble as last year, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker struck down several policies in a sweeping vote law that was passed by the Florida Legislature back in 2021. Walker also asserted that the state would need approval from a court if it plans on passing any new voting restriction laws. Despite this, DeSantis is confident that the policies stated in the law will be cleared by the judges. “We’re going to win on appeal,” said DeSantis.