Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has announced plans to create a state law enforcement agency meant to target the sorts trumped-up election issues which figure prominently in former president Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
The former president won Florida by three points a year ago, but Republicans in the state have taken up his call for so-called “forensic audits” of those results. The agency proposed by Mr DeSantis would have gun-and-badge carrying agents with the power to make warrantless arrests for putative violations of Florida’s election laws.
“We are going to create a separate office at the state level solely dedicated to investigating and prosecuting election crimes in the state of Florida. We’ll [have] sworn law enforcement officers as part of this, we’ll have investigators, we’ll have the statewide prosecutor that’s able to bring the cases,” he said during a press conference on Wednesday.
Mr DeSantis, a former House member who is considered a rising star in the GOP and a potential 2024 presidential contender, has taken up Mr Trump’s call to make “election integrity” a centrepiece of his administration’s policymaking.
Despite no evidence of widespread fraud in Florida’s elections – which include some of the highest vote-by-mail rates in the nation – Mr DeSantis has vowed to crack down on the collection of absentee ballots by others, a practice the GOP derides as “ballot harvesting”. He has proposed amending Florida’s election laws to make it a felony, rather than the misdemeanour it currently is. It’s a testament to Mr Trump’s continued stranglehold over the party that ambitious GOP officials must embrace a demonstrably false narrative about the election. After state-level wins by Republicans on Tuesday, GOP officials made no such claims of voter fraud or irregularities to be investigated.
Mr DeSantis suggested the mere existence of his proposed election crimes agency would deter election fraud, telling reporters: “I guarantee you this – the first person that gets caught, no one is going to want to do it again after that”.
The Florida Republican’s latest push against ballot access comes months after he signed into law one of the nation’s strictest crackdowns on absentee ballots, including restrictions on the use of ballot drop boxes, prohibitions on giving food or water to voters waiting in line at polling places, new requirements for absentee ballot requests, and other practices which Mr Trump and his allies claim led to the non-existent fraud responsible for his losses in other states.
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