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Florida state House passes bill creating office to probe election crimes

DeSantis proposes police unit for elections
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wants special police unit to oversee state's elections 08:30

The Florida House on Wednesday passed a bill that would create a new state office dedicated to investigating election crimes. 

The bill passed the GOP-controlled House along party lines and will head to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis' desk. He is expected to sign it into law.  

The Office of Election Crimes and Security would review allegations of fraud and conduct preliminary investigations into potential election law violations or irregularities. The governor would also appoint special officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement dedicated to probing alleged election law violations. 

The office will be a scaled-down version of what DeSantis' initially envisioned: in his budget, he called for 52 staffers for the office and a $5.7 million dollar budget. The current version would be staffed by about 25 investigators and officers. 

"(In) every single county in this state, you will find people who are committing voter fraud if you look for it," Republican state Representative Blaise Ingoglia said. "What's not happening is investigating these occurrences." 

A handful of Florida voters were arrested for trying to vote twice in the 2020 election. More than ten million Floridians voted in that election. 

"This bill simply creates a new Office of Election Crimes and Security with taxpayer dollars that we don't need to spend," Democratic state Representative Fentrice Driskell said. "What bills like this do, it says there's a problem with our elections system that we're trying to solve...It perpetuates this concept that they shouldn't be able to trust what happens in government. This is a monster that will eat us alive if we let it."

Democrats and other opponents argued that the new election security office isn't necessary because voter fraud is so rare, but Republicans have insisted that it will boost confidence among voters that lawbreakers are caught. 

"We simply don't have the resources right now to be the partners we want to be to state and local law enforcement," Florida GOP Secretary of State Laurel Lee told CBS News last month. "These resources would allow us to do even more to support our partnerships with those groups and be prepared for any challenges to come."

The bill also increases the penalties on so-called "ballot harvesting," making it a felony for anyone to deliver more than two ballots in addition to their own ballot or a ballot belonging to immediate family members. Under current law, ballot harvesting is a misdemeanor. 

The bill also raises the cap on fines for certain violations by third-party voter registration organizations from $1,000 to $50,000. It also requires election supervisors to conduct voter roll maintenance at least once a year, rather than every other year.

The bill also asks election officials to review the feasibility of requiring voters in future elections to provide the last four digits of a driver's license, state ID or Social Security number on a certificate when returning a mail ballot. That's a revision from an earlier version of the bill that would have enacted those changes by 2024. 

"This bill is the antithesis of freedom," Democratic state Representative Michele Rayner said. "This bill seeks to stifle the voting process."

This is the second major election bill passed by the GOP-controlled Florida legislature in less than a year. DeSantis has praised the way Florida ran the 2020 election, but says there's always room for improvement. 

"You're not going to maintain the gold standard of election integrity if you don't constantly address the different ways that criminals will look to exploit loopholes in the system," GOP state Representative Tommy Gregory said. 

DeSantis signed a law last May that requires voters to add ID information when requesting a mail ballot and makes voters request a mail ballot more frequently. It also tightened rules about where drop boxes can be placed, the hours drop boxes can be accessed and requires an elections official to be present when voters drop off ballots. 

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