Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed on Wednesday to create a fully-staffed statewide law-enforcement office whose sole job would be to crack down on election crimes despite previously praising Florida’s smooth 2020 elections and rebuffing calls by members of his own party for an audit,
DeSantis, who is running for reelection and is considered a potential 2024 presidential contender, is also pressing state lawmakers to increase the criminal penalty for violating new restrictions on collecting mail-in ballots. He also wants to enact new deadlines on when local election officials must scrub their voter rolls for people who had died or moved.
“I guarantee you this: The first person that gets caught, no one is going to want to do it again after that,” said DeSantis at a West Palm Beach event billed as a “press conference” but featured dozens of DeSantis supporters who loudly applauded the governor. At one point, the crowd cheered “Let’s go Brandon” — a conservative rallying cry against President Joe Biden.
The governor also said he wants the GOP-controlled Legislature to put additional restrictions on the use of drop boxes.
“I don’t even think we should have drop boxes,” said DeSantis even though he signed the bill two years ago that first authorized their use in the state.
The Republican governor’s push comes just months after he successfully got state legislators to enact a controversial new voting law that adds new restrictions on the collection of mail-in ballots including a clampdown on when and where drop boxes could be located. It also comes as some Republicans in the state, echoing former President Donald Trump’s baseless election fraud claims, are pushing for an audit of the 2020 election over DeSantis’ objections.
That new election law has drawn multiple federal lawsuits from civil rights and voting rights groups who contend those restrictions unfairly discriminate against elderly voters, voters with disabilities and minority voters. These additional proposals could throw another hot-button issue into an upcoming regular session where Florida legislators will be working on redistricting, abortion restrictions and another battle with tech companies over data privacy. The session starts in January.
Democrats — who have little power to stop the changes — quickly condemned the governor’s plans.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, said on Twitter, “More attacks on voting coming to Florida. Just like in 2020 we had elections last night in our state w/no issues. Why does our Governor keep creating partisan chaos. Why can’t we just focus on problems like housing, hunger, taxes, our environment & public transportation?”
One of the biggest changes contained in the new law was a two-ballot limit on how many mail-in ballots someone could gather and turn in on behalf of the elderly or sick and disabled voters, though there is an exception for immediate family members. This ban on “ballot harvesting” is a misdemeanor that DeSantis wants increased to a felony.
DeSantis also said that many local election offices and local prosecutors either do not want to — or lack the expertise — to investigate election crimes. In late September, the governor asked Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee to investigate whether Facebook interfered with the 2020 election even though her office does not have any investigators.
Under the governor’s proposal, Florida would create an “Office of Election Crimes and Security” that would have 25 sworn law-enforcement agents as well as other investigators to probe voter fraud and other election law violations.
DeSantis’ push for a second round of election law changes come even though the governor boasted a year ago that the state had finally “vanquished the ghost” of the 2000 presidential election recount that subjected the state to international ridicule.
But an ever-louder chorus of Republicans have called for a “forensic audit” and hand recount of Florida’s election even though Trump easily won the state over Joe Biden. Trump has not commented directly on Florida, but he has pushed for audits across the country, including in Texas, Wisconsin and Arizona.
This past weekend, long-time Trump ally — and Florida resident — Roger Stone suggested that he may run against DeSantis as a libertarian candidate if he did not order an audit.