FloridaThe state legislature has approved the creation of a new office dedicated to the investigation of election-related crimes, among the latest efforts by Republicans at the state level aimed at voting rights and election administration.
Voting rights and civic groups warn that such legislation – which was also proposed by Republican officials in Arizona and Georgia – could eventually criminalize democracy and be used to intimidate voters.
Florida Senate Bill 254 – prompted republican governor Ron DeSantis, which is expected to sign the bill – approves $ 2.5 million for the Office of Criminal Crimes and Election Security at the State Department, the country’s first such office. The governor’s office will have 25 people who will run a voter fraud hotline and investigate allegations of possible fraud and other election-related irregularities.
Kirk Bailey, political director of the Florida ACLU, said “there is no reason for police to vote.”
The bill “creates an election police that can only be described as a solution to the problem,” he said in a statement. “Several cases of intentional offenses that were prosecuted last year show that the existing system is working. There are no barriers in this legislation to prevent the politicization of the proposed office. We have real needs in Florida that need to be addressed, and that’s not one of them. ”
Genesis Robinson, political director of the non-partisan human rights organization Equal Ground Action Fund, led by Black, echoed the criticism in a speech to Congress, calling the bill “a ridiculous solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”
The bill is “nothing more than a tool to further isolate Republican political power through Florida’s voting rights,” he said in a statement. The Independent.
“We already have guarantees to investigate and prosecute those who violate our electoral law, and in a state that is proud of its fiscal responsibility, this new election police is a waste of tax dollars,” he said. “Our political atmosphere has become so polarized and divisive, and we at Equal Ground have a genuine concern that this new agency will be used to attack political enemies and divert attention and resources from real work to make voting more accessible to those who wants to participate in the democratic process. “
The law also requires election officials to maintain annual voter lists instead of biennials, which could exclude thousands of registered voters from the lists.
It also increases the criminal penalty for returning non-family ballots – what Republican critics call “ballot collecting” but is often used by NGOs, churches and other voter campaigns that rely on volunteers to help collect ballots for the elderly and the disabled. people, among others, who need help voting. Under the new law, it is punishable by a fine of up to $ 50,000 and five years in prison.
The bill also bans electoral voting and imposes new restrictions on voter registration by third parties.
According to the Florida League of Women Voters, the law “creates new, costly, unnecessary, and intentional barriers to voting.”
“During the 2020 presidential election, Gov. Ron DeSantis touted the Florida election process as the ‘gold’ standard across the country,” the group said in a statement. “While we can all agree that the security of elections is paramount, these additional confusing and unnecessary steps will keep voters from participating in the democratic process. We must do everything in our power to protect our freedom to vote in safe and secure elections. “
Bipartisan efforts to protect and expand suffrage in 2020 caused several problems in that year’s election, but a baseless narrative promoted by Donald Trump and his associates claiming mass voter fraud and “stolen” results pushed for a wave of Republican-sponsored laws in most state legislatures to abolish access to the ballot and transfer control of the election to Republican lawmakers.
The Florida State Department received 262 complaints of election fraud in 2020 and sent 75 to law enforcement, while more than 11 million Florida voters participated in that year’s presidential election.
“Election rigging is a very rare problem, so why spend millions of dollars on it and the police? It’s dangerous, ” said Bernice Kingdirector general of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
Last year United States Center for Democracy has identified 262 bills in 41 states that will impede elections, and at least 32 of those proposals will become law in 17 states by the end of 2021.
In 2022, state lawmakers in at least 27 states introduced, preliminarily submitted, or passed at least 250 bills with restrictive voting rights, compared to 75 such bills in 24 states by the same time last year. Brennan Center for Justice.