Florida governor wants lawmakers to allocate nearly $6m for Office of Election Crime and Security
Last modified on Tue 18 Jan 2022 12.42 EST
The Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, has proposed the formation of a large and unprecedented state agency to investigate election crimes – in a state where there is little evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election or otherwise.
In response, one prominent state prosecutor sought to tie DeSantis to rightwing conspiracy theorists, calling his proposal “a solution in search of a problem … a $6m door prize for a QAnon pep rally”.
Nonetheless, DeSantis, who has also proposed his own militia, wants state lawmakers to allocate nearly $6m to fund an Office of Election Crime and Security, which would have 52 staffers, including 45 investigators.
There would be a central office in Tallahassee, the state capital, and investigators based throughout Florida. Staffers in an office with a budget of more than $660,000 to acquire motor vehicles would refer election crimes to either the state attorney general or local prosecutors.
The proposed office would have more investigators than law enforcement agencies in some of Florida’s biggest cities have to investigate murders, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
In his state of the state address last week, DeSantis said: “To ensure that elections are conducted in accordance with the rule of law, I have proposed an election integrity unit whose sole focus will be the enforcement of Florida’s election laws.
“This will facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws and will provide Floridians with the confidence that their vote will count.”
The office would be the first of its kind. Election crime investigations, like other crimes, are typically handled by local law enforcement and prosecutors. Federal prosecutors also have jurisdiction over some issues.
The Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, a Republican and staunch Trump ally, has a unit dedicated to investigating election crimes and with a $2.2m budget. It has failed to turn up many cases.
Still, DeSantis has complained that officials in Florida are not doing enough to look into election crimes.
“That’s not their expertise,” he said in November. “They’ve got all these other crimes that they have to deal with. So, by the time it happens, the election is already over. So, it’s not necessary. And some just don’t want to deal with it at all.”
Elections experts widely consider Florida to have some of the best-run elections in the US. The state has a considerable early voting period and has long used no-excuse mail-in voting – which Donald Trump used to cast his vote in 2020.
Trump lost that presidential election to Joe Biden, but maintains without evidence his defeat was the result of widespread voter fraud. He also maintains a strong grip on the Republican party.
At a press conference the day after the 2020 election, DeSantis said: “The way Florida did it, I think, inspires confidence. I think that’s how elections should be run.”
But as Republicans have embraced Trump’s lies, DeSantis, widely considered a frontrunner for the 2024 presidential nomination, has come under pressure to review the 2020 results.
He has resisted conducting a review but has nonetheless made it harder to vote. Last year, he signed a law that makes it harder to request a mail-in ballot, limits the availability of ballot drop boxes and makes it harder for third parties to register voters.
Andrew Warren, the top prosecutor in Hillsborough county, which includes Tampa, told the Guardian the Office of Election Crime and Security proposal was not serious and that there was no widespread election fraud in Florida. His office, he said, had received four referrals for election crimes over the two decades.
“This is a solution in search of a problem,” Warren said. “It’s a really expensive one at that. This is a $6m door prize for a QAnon pep rally.
“The implication is that there’s so much election fraud that law enforcement needs help investigating it and that state attorneys need help prosecuting it. I’m willing to bet a pretty penny that there’s not one sheriff or police chief or state attorney in the entire state of Florida who’s having that problem.”
OECS staffers, the Democrat added, would “sit around and wait for the phone to ring. That’s a lot of time watching Netflix and playing Candy Crush on the taxpayer dollar.”
Warren said he was concerned that such an agency could have a chilling effect on people trying to exercise their right to vote.
Last week, Democrats in Florida’s congressional delegation wrote to the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, requesting that he investigate efforts to restrict voting access.
“Harmful proposals to create new partisan bodies to oversee our voting process are exactly the kind of action that demand oversight as we work to ensure that our voting process is unquestionably trustworthy,” they wrote.