Bill allowing statewide prosecutor to take election cases ready for House vote
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 1/5/23-Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami, during the House Ethics, Elections & Open Government Subcommittee, Thursday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The Legislature has taken up the issue in Special Session as several controversial voter arrests play out.

The House is ready to vote on allowing a statewide prosecutor to pursue charges in many election-related crimes.

The change in law could come after the arrest of 20 people by Florida’s new election police force.

The bill (SB 4B) has been championed in the House by Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, a Miami-Dade Republican. The House discussed the legislation on the floor a day after the Senate similarly passed the bill in the upper chamber. Representatives except to vote on the bill on Friday.

Democrats have criticized the measure.

Florida’s statewide prosecutor reports to Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican. But the recent round of arrests involved a number of individuals in Democratic counties. Miami judges have already dismissed some of the charges, a decision being appealed by the state. Some Democratic state attorneys have been reluctant to pursue charges.

“The office of election crimes has targeted a lot of returning citizens for alleged election crimes,” said Rep. Angie Nixon, a Jacksonville Democrat. “Is it intent to investigate and prosecute all those arrests?”

Nixon questioned why elected state attorneys can’t be trusted to handle election cases. But Fernandez-Barquin noted the Attorney General is a statewide elected position.

“This is a matter of checks and balances and additional supervision,” the bill sponsor said.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, proposed an amendment that would allow the prosecutor to also look at “ghost candidate” scandals. But that failed.

If a local prosecutor won’t handle a case, this allows the chance for a statewide prosecutor to step in, Fernandez-Barquin said. He noted the bill does not prohibit local prosecutors from pursuing charges in cases.

Fernandez-Barquin said the shift is important because election crimes often span multiple judicial circuits. He noted the legislation only allows the statewide prosecutor to step in if a crime impacts communities in more than one jurisdiction.

“The way the statute is structured, it requires two or more judicial circuits,” he said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has come under fire for urging the arrest of those who believed they had their rights restored. Many of those individuals said they were sent materials by the state encouraging them to register, and then were arrested for casting a ballot.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Lex

    February 10, 2023 at 12:42 pm

    This is a good idea. Local Officials may be more likely to allow their local citizens to vote to bolster the local vote totals in statewide elective decisions. In an exaggerated example if someone casts 100,000 votes in Dade County in a Statewide election, Dade County might have political reasons not to enforce election law because the County benefitted by getting more votes.

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