The Florida House on Wednesday sent a bill to make the state the first to establish an election crimes and voter fraud office to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo
March 9 (UPI) -- Florida's House on Wednesday approved a measure that would make the state the first to establish an election crimes and voter fraud office.
The Republican-led House passed the bill that will establish an Office of Election Crimes and Security within Florida's Department of state comprised of 15 staff members to conduct preliminary investigations of election fraud and 10 law enforcement officers appointed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate election crimes.
Republican state Rep. Daniel Perez, who led the legislation through the chamber, said the investigations unit would serve as an "extra resource" for local elections supervisors.
"The more resources we have to attack the bad people, the bad actors who are committing fraud, the better for the state of Florida," he said during floor debate.
Perez added the bill would provide a budget of about $3.7 million.
DeSantis had originally proposed a 52-member staff with a budget of $5.7 million.
The bill has faced backlash from Democrats and elections officials who find the provisions excessive, especially as DeSantis said last year that Florida passed its automatic post-election audits of the 2020 race with "flying colors." However, many Republican-led states have seized on voter fraud after former President Donald Trump promoted unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential race.
"It's drastically improved from what the governor wanted, but I don't believe we should have an elections police force at all," Broward County elections supervisor Joe Scott told The Washington Post. "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 would also raise the penalty for anyone collecting, possessing or submitting more than two absentee ballots in addition to his or her own from a misdemeanor to a felony.
"We're going to convict people of a felony because they helped three instead of two elderly neighbors?" Democratic state Rep. Joseph Geller asked.
It also requires elections supervisors to cull voter rolls every year instead of every two years and establishes a $1,000 fine for switching a voter's registration without their consent.
The bill further changes the name of ballot drop boxes to "secure ballot intake stations."
Florida's Senate passed the legislation last week and it will head to DeSantis for his signature following Wednesday's approval.