(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law instituting a range of sweeping election reform measures in Florida.
“I don’t think there is any other place in the country where you should have more confidence that your vote counts than in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said at a news conference conference in Spring Hill, where he signed the bill.
SB 524, Election Administration, requires voter rolls to be annually reviewed and updated. It strengthens ID requirements, creates a new office to investigate election law violations, and increases penalties for election law violations.
“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 in a statement. “We need to do more to ensure our elections remain secure. We have ended ballot harvesting, stopped drop boxes and the mass mailing of ballots, and banned Zuckerbucks, and this bill will give us more resources to make sure bad actors are held accountable.”
Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee said the new measures were in addition to ones the state has taken to secure its election system, including its strengthening cyber defenses, modernizing its equipment, updating its voter rolls, and improving transparency.
Under the new law, the penalty for ballot harvesting increased from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. It carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and up to five years of probation.
It also authorized the creation and funding of a new office, the Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State, the first office solely dedicated to investigating all election crimes in Florida. Funding for the office was allocated in the budget through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to hire staff and purchase resources. The office will conduct criminal investigations of election crimes in partnership with the Office of Election Crimes and Security.
Under the new law, supervisors of elections will be required to maintain voter lists every year to identify ineligible voters. The Department of State is also required to identify deceased registered voters using information received by specified agencies, according to the bill summary.
The Department of State is also required to submit a report, plan and draft legislation to the state legislature on ways to strengthen ID requirements for mail-in ballots, according to stipulations in the new law. It has until Feb. 1, 2023, to do so. The plan and draft legislation must include ways to identify voters who submit mail ballots, including matching names and other information to the voters’ driver’s license numbers or state identification card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other information.
Under the new law, specified individuals observing the ballot duplication process are required to sign a specified affidavit acknowledging certain criminal penalties.
State Sen. Travis Hutson, who filed the bill, said the new law was “transformational” and “puts Florida at the forefront of election security and transparency.”
Leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said, “DeSantis’ new voting police force is costly, unnecessary and a dangerous form of voter intimidation.”
Democratic state Rep. Tracie Davis, a vocal critic of DeSantis, said the “so-called election reform legislation is a continued attack by the Republican Party to generate public distrust in the integrity of our elections,” the Associated Press reported, adding that it was “unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer funds.”
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 24-14 and the House by a vote of 76-41.
Reporting from The Center Square.