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DeSantis Election Police Force Plan Stirs Controversy in Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is asking the legislature to create a police force to oversee state elections, the first of its kind in the nation. While his fellow Republicans have reacted tepidly, voting rights advocates fear that it will become law and be used to intimidate voters, the Washington Post reports. The Office of Election Crimes and Security would be part of the Department of State, which answers to the governor. DeSantis wants the GOP-controlled legislature to allocate nearly $6 million for 52 people to “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws. They would be stationed at unspecified “field offices throughout the state” and act on tips from “government officials or any other person.”

Voting rights experts say that no state has such an agency. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the formation of a “2021 Texas Election Integrity Unit” in October, but that office is more limited, has fewer than 10 employees and isn’t under the governor’s authority. “There’s a reason that there’s no office of this size with this kind of unlimited investigative authority in any other state ... and it’s because election crimes and voter fraud are just not a problem of that magnitude,” said Jonathan Diaz of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center. “My number one concern is that this is going to be used as a tool to harass or intimidate civic-engagement organizations and voters.” Broward County Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott said he’s concerned that the new unit would be “applied in a very partisan way” and that his heavily Democratic county would be a target. “It seems as if this is going to focus on a lot of grass-roots organizations that are out there trying to get people registered to vote,” Scott said. “I think this is going to lead to people being intimidated if they’re civically involved. I don’t want people to be scared away from doing those kinds of things.”

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