February 1, 2022
Bill calls for 52 voter fraud investigators statewide, yearly voter roll purges, and increased barriers to voting by mail Yesterday, Republican State Senator Travis Hutson (St. Augustine) introduced a piece of anti-voting rights legislation that features a disturbing proposal put forward by Governor Ron DeSantis: allocating nearly $6 million to hire 52 investigators, including 20 sworn law enforcement officers, with field offices around the state, to “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws and have the power to refer findings to a statewide prosecutor. The bill, known as SB 524, is scheduled for a hearing in the Florida Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections today at 3:30 PM. The proposed legislation is part of a broader push by the Republican Party, including Governor DeSantis and former President Donald Trump, to spread lies about the frequency of voter fraud, which is a vanishingly rare occurrence both in Florida and nationwide. It also includes numerous other provisions designed to make it more difficult for working Floridians to exercise their right to vote. “Governor DeSantis and Florida Republicans are trying everything they can think of to intimidate and harass voters and deny Floridians their right to vote,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Travis Reuther. “It is outrageous that they are proposing a special police force to combat a problem that doesn’t exist. Once again, they are putting their political loyalty to Donald Trump and his lies ahead of their responsibility to voters and our democracy.” Read More:
The unit would be housed in the office of the Florida secretary of state, where the incumbent is Laurel M. Lee. The secretary of state in Florida is appointed by the governor, not elected independently.
Proposed legislation says that the unit would field complaints or allegations from government officials or citizens and also have the power to conduct independent investigations. The language also says that to ensure that election officials are complying with the laws, the unit could conduct “proactive information gathering to identify and prevent potential election law violations or irregularities.”
Hutson's amendment also makes changes to mail voting by requiring additional personal information to be included with submitted ballots, either the last four digits of the voter's driver's license or the last four digits of the person's social security number. The amended legislation also would require elections officials in each county to update voter rolls every year, instead of every odd year. DeSantis called for more efforts to purge voter rolls in his State of the State speech at the opening of the 2022 legislative session.
The Hutson proposal also would increase misdemeanor penalties to felonies for various election violations, including collecting the mail-in ballots of other people or paying petition gatherers, based on the number of signatures collected.
DeSantis has never dismissed claims by former President Donald Trump that he lost the White House in 2020 due to widespread voter irregularities and fraud.
The Governor has said the force will ensure that Florida campaign laws are followed. But elections supervisors have questioned whether it could blur existing legal lines of authority when wrongdoing is suspected. They also say the Office of Election Crimes and Security is overkill in a state where election law violations are considered infrequent.
Florida’s election law changes were part of a nationwide push by Republican lawmakers in dozens of states to overhaul voting laws following the 2020 elections. A federal trial challenging the law as unconstitutional opened Monday in Tallahassee, with a host of civil rights and voters’ organizations asking that the measure be overturned.
February 1, 2022
For Immediate Release
Contact: Travis Reuther