Florida will soon have a new election sheriff in town.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed SB 524, which contains numerous changes to state election laws, including setting up a police force dedicated to voter fraud and increasing the penalty for ballot harvesting to a third-degree felony.
“We just want to make sure whatever laws are on the books, that those laws are enforced,” DeSantis said shortly before signing the measure at a sports bar and restaurant in Spring Hill.
The new law sets up the Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State, the agency overseeing elections. In the budget for the next fiscal year, which DeSantis has yet to sign, lawmakers provided 15 positions and $1.1 million for the office, which will investigate reports of election irregularities.
DeSantis also highlighted a previous law passed in 2021 that banned the practice of “ballot harvesting,” prohibiting a non-family member from handling more than two mail-in ballots and tightened when drop boxes can be used by election officials. The new law increases the penalty for ballot harvesting from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.
The bill received a near party-line vote in both chambers — 24-14 in the Senate and 76-41 in the House — with Democrats opposed and Republicans in support. Only Sen. Loranne Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat, initially voted in favor of the bill by mistake. She changed her vote after the roll call. Democrats argued the bill was meant to suppress their voters, particularly African American voters.
“The parade of bad bills just keeps coming,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat. “As if targeting marginalized communities wasn’t enough, the Governor has now broadened his attacks to now include the voting freedoms of all Floridians. This bad bill encroaches on every Floridian’s right to a fair voting process free from arbitrary obstacles put in place by Tallahassee politicians.”
Tallahassee federal court Judge Mark Walker struck down part of the 2021 election law on March 31, ruling the changes were aimed at minority voters.
“At some point, when the Florida Legislature passes law after law disproportionately burdening Black voters, this court can no longer accept that the effect is incidental,” Walker wrote. “This court finds that, in the past 20 years, Florida has repeatedly sought to make voting tougher for Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates. In summation, Florida has a horrendous history of racial discrimination in voting.”
The ruling required Florida to get federal approval for any future changes to parts of its election laws, but DeSantis brushed aside the decision in his remarks Monday, saying it’s likely to be overturned on appeal.
Furthermore, despite Florida’s relatively smooth election process in 2020, the state should continually increase election security, DeSantis argued.
“Twenty years ago, nobody thought Florida was a prime example of how to conduct elections, but we have become a national leader by running the most secure elections in the country,” DeSantis said. “We need to do more to ensure our elections remain secure.”