Florida Senate passes voting bill to create Election Crimes Agency

The Florida Senate has passed a sweeping new bill overhauling the state’s election process, adding new restrictions to the state’s elect...

The Florida Senate has passed a sweeping new bill overhauling the state’s election process, adding new restrictions to the state’s election code and establishing a law enforcement office dedicated solely to investigating election crimes .

The bill, which passed 24-14, is now going to the state House of Representatives, where it could pass as soon as next week and land on the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who is expected to sign. One Republican, State Senator Jeff Brandes, voted against. A Democratic Senator, Loranne Ausley, initially voted yes, but immediately posted on Twitter that she “pressed the wrong button” and has since changed her vote.

Although state Republicans passed another sweep pass the law in May last yearMr. DeSantis has also made electoral reform a top priority for this legislative session. Both efforts come after Florida’s 2020 election passed without any major issues, and Republicans in the state have been touting it. as a “gold standard” for the administration of elections.

The legislation is set to become the first major election-related bill to pass this year in a critical battleground state, and it would indicate no signs of a peak for the wave of new election laws, adding more of voting restrictions, which began last year – with 34 laws passed in 19 states.

The heart of the bill is the creation of a permanent Bureau of Election Crimes within the Department of State, which would make Florida one of the first states to have an agency solely dedicated to election crimes and fraud. election, although such offenses are extremely rare in the United States. An investigation last year by the Associated Press revealed less than 475 potential fraud claims out of 25.5 million ballots cast for president in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The new office would help the secretary of state’s office investigate complaints and allegations, launch its own independent investigations and oversee a voter fraud hotline. It would include an unspecified number of investigators, and Mr. DeSantis would also appoint at least one special agent in each of the state Department of Law Enforcement’s regional offices to investigate election crimes.

The bill would also increase penalties for those who collect and submit more than two mail-in ballots, from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Voting rights groups worry that the continued criminalization of the voting process could both deter voters from participating and leave election officials fearful of prosecution for honest mistakes.

“Involving law enforcement with this type of vague mandate obviously creates problems and can certainly have a detrimental effect on voters’ ability to vote if they are concerned about law enforcement involvement,” said Daniel Griffith, director of policy at Secure. Democracy USA, a nonpartisan organization focused on elections and voter access. “And that has a detrimental effect on election officials if they’re worried there’s law enforcement over their shoulder.”

Previously, voter fraud investigations were handled by Florida’s Secretary of State, Department of Law Enforcement, and Attorney General. Democrats have argued that the bill effectively creates a new agency to do the work that has been done by existing agencies. The creation of the agency, say Democrats, is just a political ploy to signal that Florida and Mr. DeSantis are standing firm on a fundamental issue for both the Republican base and former President Donald J. Trump.

“Why are we doing this?” State Senator Lori Berman said during Friday’s debate. “The only thing I can think of is that we are driven by the ‘big lie’ that the national elections were not held properly. But we know that is not true.

State Sen. Travis Hutson, the bill’s sponsor and a Republican, defended it during Friday’s debate, saying having a dedicated force would both uncover more fraud and make the State able to process more allegations.

“We had great elections, the governor mentioned that,” Mr. Hutson said. “But I would tell you that we can always do better.”

He added: “I will say there is no voter intimidation or vote suppression in this bill.”

The new electoral office also drew criticism from some Republican members, who argued it was unnecessary.

“That 15 people are pursuing what is potentially a handful of complaints that will ultimately be substantiated is just almost comical,” Mr. Brandes said during Friday’s debate, referring to the executive’s suggestions to assign 15 investigators to the office. . . “So I’m not going to support this bill today.”

Uniformed law enforcement officials have been used in the past to deter and suppress voters. In 1982, the Republican National Committee dispatched a group of armed and off-duty police known as the National Ballot Security Task Force to linger around New Jersey polling places during a hotly contested gubernatorial election. The Democratic National Committee sued, forcing the RNC to issue a consent decree to ban such tactics.

Those memories still seemed to be on the minds of lawmakers in the Florida Legislature. During Thursday’s debate, State Senator Victor Manuel Torres Jr. asked Mr. Hutson, the sponsor of the bill, “Will these individuals be in uniform or in civilian clothes?”

Mr. Hutson responded that the current Secretary of State’s Law Enforcement Department wears plainclothes and members of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are likely to be in uniform.

In addition to the new Bureau of Election Crimes and Security, the bill adds other new voting restrictions, including a ban on preferential voting; increase the fine cap for third-party registration groups from $1,000 to $50,000; extending the ban on private funding of election administration to include the “cost of any litigation”; and replacing references to “drop boxes” with “secure polling stations.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Florida Senate passes voting bill to create Election Crimes Agency
Florida Senate passes voting bill to create Election Crimes Agency
Newsrust - US Top News
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