Two months after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a plan for a powerful elections police force that would answer to him, state lawmakers passed a watered-down version that barely resembles what the governor asked for but still worries voting rights advocates reported the Washington Post.
DeSantis (R) had asked for nearly $6 million to hire
52 people, including sworn officers, to investigate alleged violations of
elections laws. The GOP-led House and Senate instead gave him about $2.5
million for the new Office of Election Crimes and Security.
The agency will be the first of its kind in the
nation. Its staff of 25 will be part of the Department of State, which answers
to DeSantis. Both chambers approved its creation by wide margins after debate
that had Democrats invoking the name of the late civil rights leader John Lewis
and a Republican representative making reference to Soviet dictator Joseph
Stalin. The governor has indicated he will sign the measure into law.
drastically improved from what the governor wanted, but I don’t believe we
should have an elections police force at all,” said Joe Scott, the elections
supervisor in Broward County. “These are people who will be looking for crimes
where there are none. That has the potential to intimidate a lot of voters and
the organizations who try to help voters.”
The bill also includes harsh repercussions for some
voting practices that were common in the state until last year, when the
legislature, at the governor’s behest, passed sweeping changes to state elections laws.
One of the most controversial penalties is for
“ballot harvesting.” The 2021 law made it a misdemeanor for anyone to have more
than two ballots, which impacts efforts at churches and community centers to
have volunteers gather ballots and deposit them at an elections office or in a
drop box. The bill passed this week raises that to a felony, punishable with a
fine of up to $50,000 and five years in prison.
“So now we’re criminalizing certain acts around the
elections process that most folks, particularly in the Black community, have
long held as a way to assist those in need,” said Genesis Robinson, political
director of Equal Ground, a voting rights advocacy group. “To spend time in
jail for simply trying to be a good neighbor, that’s a problem.”
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