New office to investigate voting irregularities and other election changes may be on the way
Florida House and Senate Republicans may be ready to pass an election plan that includes creating a new state office to investigate voting irregularities, increase penalties for wrongdoing and review changes in the postal voting system.
The House Appropriations Committee on Monday approved a revamped election bill (HB 7061) that mirrors changes made to a Senate version (SB 524). Republicans argue the proposals are necessary to prevent voter fraud, a major GOP theme since former President Donald Trump lost his bid for a second term in 2020.
“This is a vote for resources in the electoral process, for additional manpower in the electoral integrity process,” House Sponsor Daniel Perez, R-Miami, said before the vote of the credit committee.
But Democrats have questioned the need for measures such as creating an office of election crimes and security within the State Department. They disputed that the state has evidence of widespread voter fraud, particularly after a successful 2020 election in Florida.
“My concern, quite frankly, is that we’re making this change not on the database, not on the information, but on the policy,” said Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. St. Petersburg, said.
The bills are ready for submission to the full House and Senate as the legislative session nears its scheduled end on March 11.
Governor Ron DeSantis prioritized the creation of the Bureau of Election Crimes and Security, which Perez said would include 15 employees. Additionally, the House and Senate bills would require the governor, in conjunction with the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to appoint FDLE special agents to investigate allegations of election violations. , with at least one officer in each region of the state.
“The purpose of this (the creation of the new office) is to ensure that we have the additional resources to ensure that we support the Supervisor of Elections locally so that he can carry out his duties,” Perez said. .
But Abdelilah Skhir, voting rights policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, raised concerns about the creation of an “election police” and the possibility that the new office could be politicized.
The bills would also increase financial and criminal penalties for violating election laws, such as what has become known as “ballot harvesting,” which can include the collection and delivery of mail-in ballots. for several people. The penalty for harvesting the ballots would, under the bills, increase from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.
“I want to make sure there’s no fraud, and that’s our goal,” Perez said.
But Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, questioned whether people could face felony charges for, say, delivering mail-in ballots to elderly neighbors.
“Do you really want to extend the felony tag to something that’s really that unintentional?” Geller asked.
“Yes,” Perez replied.
The House committee reduced part of the bill that would have required people to use an extra envelope for mail-in ballots and include the last four digits of their driver’s license number, security number social security or their state identification number – whichever number is registered with the offices of election supervisors. Critics had said such requirements would confuse voters.
The revised bill would direct the Secretary of State to work on a plan to “prescribe the use of a Florida driver’s license number, Florida identification card number, Social Security or any part thereof to confirm the identity of each voter returning a mail-in ballot. The secretary of state is expected to submit the plan by January 1.
The Senate made a similar change last week to its bill.
The proposals came after Republican lawmakers passed a controversial election law last year that included changes to the mail-in ballot process. U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Walker is reviewing constitutional challenges suffrage groups have filed against the law.