Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said in his "state of the state" speech last week that Florida needs an entirely new police agency to combat election crimes, even though Florida doesn't have any election fraud to speak of. Nonetheless, DeSantis requested that the state legislature spend roughly $6 million to set up a brand new "Office of Election Crimes and Security" and hire 52 people to staff it, so they can “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of Florida election laws. The Vote Cops would be stationed at as-yet unspecified "field offices throughout the state," so they could roll into action when they get tips from "government officials or any other person.”
As of yet, no word on whether the Electoral SWAT Team will be equipped for high-speed pursuit or allowed to shoot to kill. (Haha, we are joking. It's Florida, so who knows!)
The Washington Post reports that so far at least, Florida Republicans have "reacted tepidly" to the proposal, so that's nice. Then again, all it would take for the idea to really have massive popular support would be for Donald Trump to mention it on Fox News.
Again, Florida doesn't have any serious issues with voter fraud, except perhaps for those three retired folks from the Villages, all Republicans, who were charged in December with voting in both Florida and by absentee ballot in other states in 2020. If the state had dedicated $2 million and 17 election cops to each of those miscreants, they might have been caught earlier.
We have no doubt that if the agency actually comes into being, plenty of wingnuts will have it on speed dial so they can report suspicious election activities, like maybe seeing two or more Black people getting out of a single car at polling stations in Miami. It should make the livestreamed ballot counting after elections a lot more lively, too. "I just saw a woman open a box. I don't know where that box came from! Probably China!"
DeSantis certainly framed the need as dire, explaining that
“To ensure that elections are conducted in accordance with the rule of law, I propose an election integrity unit whose sole focus will be the enforcement of Florida’s election laws,” he said during his State of the State address. “This will facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws and will provide Floridians with the confidence that their vote will matter.”
The Post, ever dismissive of the virtually nonexistent threat of voter fraud, snottily points out that DeSantis himself had nothing but praise in November 2020 for Florida's election, which he called "the gold standard."
“The way Florida did it, I think, inspired confidence,” DeSantis said on Nov. 4, 2020, hours after the results showed that President Donald Trump had won the state by more than three percentage points. “I think that’s how elections should be run.”
As the Post also points out, the 2020 election in Florida really was, unlike lots of Florida elections, run smoothly and generally free of trouble. But that was before Donald Trump made it official Republican policy that he had won the election and the vote was massively rigged everywhere. Clearly even DeSantis's confidence in his state's excellent election was but an illusion.
As for all that fraud out there, the Post notes that, out of about 11 million votes cast in Florida in 2020, Florida's Department of State received just 262 complaint forms alleging possible election fraud, out of which it referred 75 to law enforcement or to prosecutors. If allegations of fraud continue at that rate, each employee of the new agency (assuming a bunch of supervisors) would only have to field maybe two cases a year. Or every two years, we suppose.
So far, at least, the Post reports that Florida GOP lawmakers haven't exactly been scrambling to turn DeSantis's idea into legislation. Nobody has yet filed a bill to create the agency, and the most that House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) has committed to is that "We’re going to look at it, we’ll evaluate it and see what happens."
Even so, Democrats and voting rights advocates worry that the very existence of an electoral police agency would cause some people to fear voting, not to mention the potential actions the RepubliCops might take come election time.
“Broward County Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott said he’s concerned that the new unit would be “applied in a very partisan way” and certain that his heavily Democratic county would be a target.
"It seems as if this is going to focus on a lot of grass-roots organizations that are out there trying to get people registered to vote, as well as people out there doing petition drives,” Scott said. “I think this is going to lead to people being intimidated if they’re civically involved. I don’t want people to be scared away from doing those kinds of things.”
If the idea does catch on, get ready for lots of sanctimonious Goopers to ask what Democratic officials and voters are so afraid of it they're doing nothing wrong. Freedom is only threatened by efforts to control a deadly pandemic, not by cops watching people vote.
DeSantis and the Republican-dominated legislature followed up the clean and fair 2020 election by making sure it would be harder for the wrong people to vote, passing a new election law last year to fix all the problems there hadn't been in 2020. It restricted the availability of absentee ballot drop boxes, requiring they be available only inside elections offices during early voting. It also toughened ID requirements for requesting mail-in ballots, and prohibited anyone but family members from turning in absentee ballots — again, not that there had been any problems with absentee voting. The new law is being challenged in court, with a trial set to start at the end of this month.
Nobody could actually point to any cheating the new restrictions would prevent, but Republican state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia said at the time he was sure there was a lot of frauding that nobody saw, explaining that "[j]ust the fact that they weren't caught doesn't necessarily mean that it's not happening."
That seems like an excellent justification for spending millions on election cops, too, and if they don't find more than the few scattered cases of people voting illegally that show up every election, then clearly that'll mean the election police need to be greatly expanded.
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