By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday to create a police force dedicated to prosecuting voter fraud and other electoral crimes, adopting a top Republican priority after former President Donald Trump’s false claims that his re-election was stolen.
DeSantis, who is running for re-election and is considered a likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate, focused on election legislation this year, pushing the Republican-controlled Legislature to create the police unit. in a speech where he referenced unspecified cases of voter fraud, which have become popular talking points in his party.
Voter fraud is rare, usually occurs in isolated cases, and is usually detected. An Associated Press investigation of the 2020 presidential election found fewer than 475 potential cases of voter fraud out of 25.5 million votes cast in the six states where Trump and his allies contested their loss to President Joe Biden.
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Republicans across the country have emphasized the need to restore public confidence in elections and have passed several voting laws in the last two years aimed at establishing new rules on the early voting and mail-in voting methods that were popular in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic disrupted in-person voting.
Florida’s new law, which critics have deemed unnecessary and politically motivated, comes after DeSantis praised the 2020 state election as calm but later suggested more rules were needed.
The law creates a Bureau of Election Crimes and Security under the Florida Department of State to review allegations of fraud and conduct preliminary investigations. DeSantis is required to appoint a group of special officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who will be tasked with pursuing election law violations.
Existing state law allowed the governor to appoint officers to investigate election law violations, but did not require him to do so.
The law also increases the penalties for the collection of completed ballots by a third party, often referred to as ballot harvesting, to a felony. Increases fines for certain election law violations and requires election supervisors to maintain voter lists more frequently.
Democrats, the minority party in the state legislature, have criticized the bill as a way for DeSantis to appeal to Republican voters who believe the 2020 election results were rigged while he flirts with a presidential bid of his own.
Late last month, a federal judge overturned parts of a landslide election law passed last year in a sweeping ruling that alleged the Republican-dominated state government was suppressing black voters and mandated that attempts to write similar new laws in the next decade must meet with court approval .
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker struck down a provision in last year’s law that limited when people could use a drop box to drop off their ballot, along with a section that prohibited interacting with people waiting to vote. He also blocked a section that placed new rules on groups that register voters, including one that requires people who work to register voters to submit their names and permanent addresses to the state.
The DeSantis administration is working to reverse Walker’s ruling.
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