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DeSantis signs bill creating election police unit in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a bill to create a dedicated police force to prosecute voter fraud and other election crimes, embracing a top Republican priority after false claims by former President Donald Trump that his re-election was stolen.

DeSantis, who is running for re-election and considered a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, has 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 became popular talking points in his party.

Voter fraud is rare, usually occurs in isolated cases, and is usually detected. An Associated Press investigation into the 2020 presidential election found fewer than 475 potential cases of voter fraud in 25.5 million ballots cast in the six states where Trump and his allies contested his loss to the president Joe Biden.

Republicans across the country have stressed the need to restore public confidence in elections and have passed several election laws over the past two years aimed at imposing new rules regarding mail and early voting methods that were popular in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted in-person voting.

Florida’s new law, which critics have said is politically motivated and unnecessary, comes after DeSantis hailed the state’s 2020 election as smooth 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 would be responsible for prosecuting violations of election law.

Existing state law allowed the governor to appoint officers to investigate violations of election law, 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. It increases fines for certain violations of election law and requires election supervisors to update voter lists more frequently.

Democrats, the minority party in the state Legislature, criticized the bill as a way for DeSantis to appeal to Republican voters who think the 2020 election results were fraudulent as he flirts with his own presidential race.

Late last month, a federal judge struck down parts of a sweeping election law passed last year in a scathing ruling alleging the state’s Republican-dominated government was suppressing black voters and ordered that attempts to write similar new laws over the next decade must have court approval.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker struck down a provision in last year’s law limiting when people could use a drop box to submit their ballot, as well as a section prohibiting anyone from engaging with people waiting to vote. He also blocked a section that imposed new rules on groups that register voters, including one requiring people working on voter registration to submit their names and permanent addresses to the state.

The DeSantis administration is working to overturn Walker’s decision.

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