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DeSantis' proposed agency for election crimes will cost taxpayers $5.7 million

The new agency would have broad oversight in investigating violations of Florida's election laws. In 15 years, there have been only a handful of election crimes.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In November, Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged to “strengthen the integrity” of future elections during January’s legislative session by creating the Office of Election Crimes and Security.

“We made reforms in this bill last year when we were doing this, but I think there needs to be more reforms on this,” Governor DeSantis explained.

The one-of-a-kind agency would investigate any election-related crimes or irregularities. DeSantis has already brought sweeping changes, including limiting mail-in ballots and ballot drop boxes. However, this new unit would take matters a step further as DeSantis faces criticism for not doing enough about “election fraud.”

“What we are going to do is create a separate office at the state level solely to investigate election crimes in the state of Florida," Governor DeSantis stated.

According to DeSantis’ Freedom First Budget, the office comes at a proposed cost of $5.7 million. The office would hire 52 staff members, including 20 sworn law enforcement officers and 25 non-sworn investigators. The office’s purpose is to investigate election crimes and make referrals for legal action.

With 45 investigators, that’s more than the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which had 18 officers investigate 49 homicides last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

While voter fraud is rare, three residents of The Villages have been accused of casting multiple votes in the 2020 election, according to court documents.  The Florida Department of State voter records shows two of the residents are registered Republicans, while the third does not have a party affiliation.

Even with this instance, there are still very few cases of voter fraud in Florida. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, gathered data on voter fraud cases by state. Between 2003 and 2018, Heritage found 37 instances of voter fraud or election irregularities in Florida. That averages to just over two cases in the state each year.

Of those cases, only six of them are related to fraudulent use of absentee ballots over the course of 15 years. For perspective, more than 11 million votes were cast by Floridians in the 2020 election.

There was also no evidence that votes were compromised or altered in the 2020 presidential election despite claims by former President Donald Trump and his supporters, cybersecurity experts say.

The Brookings Institution verified data from the Heritage Foundation, concluding, “There is surprisingly little voter fraud and not nearly enough to justify blocking vote-by-mail systems in a pandemic.”

It’s unclear why the proposed Office of Election Crimes and Security needs nearly 50 investigators for the rare instance of voter fraud. It’s also unclear what their role would be when they are not investigating election crimes.

Despite this information, and despite former President Donald Trump securing Florida in the 2020 election, some organizations are still searching for instances of fraud.

Defend Florida, a citizen-driven movement, claims to protect Florida from federal government overreach and to ensure election integrity. The group sends citizens to the homes of registered voters to verify home addresses match with registration forms. The group also seeks to end early voting, mail-in ballots, and require absentee ballots to be notarized.

One of their partners, County Citizens Defending Freedom, is requesting to inspect and conduct a “forensic audit” of Polk County’s election system. Polk County is one of Florida’s republican strongholds, with former President Donald Trump earning more than 56 percent of the county’s votes in the 2020 presidential election. However, in reporting from The Ledger, CCDF still wants to inspect equipment to ensure voter confidence.

Lori Edwards, Polk County’s supervisor of elections for the past 20 years, has made it clear she will not allow inspections that could compromise Polk County’s election systems, according to The Ledger.

Additionally, Gov. Ron DeSantis and top Florida Republican leaders have repeatedly said Florida’s elections ran smoothly and fairly in 2020. However, despite this, DeSantis has signed sweeping reforms, including the enforcement of voter identification and banning ballot harvesting. DeSantis said in a press conference that he wanted to eliminate drop boxes entirely, but the Legislature wouldn’t go for that.

"I don't think we should have drop boxes, to be honest with you," DeSantis said in a press conference. 

Even without the creation of a new state office, the state can still monitor and act on voter fraud crimes, without the added $5.7 million bill. According to the Florida Department of State, the department received 262 election fraud complaint forms and referred 75 of those to law enforcement for further action.

When it comes to spending $5.7 million on the new office, here’s a breakdown of what that money will go toward within the agency:

  • Acquisition of motor vehicles: $663,560
  • Contracted services: $26,052
  • Expenses: $992,441
  • Operation of motor vehicles: $25,000
  • Salaries and benefits: $3,982,500
  • Transfer to Dept. of Management Services: $15,863
  • Total: $5,705,416

It’s unclear how the Governor’s office determined how many investigators are necessary and why the budget is allocated in this manner.

In addition to the proposed office, DeSantis is also proposing $8 million for the Supervisors of Elections to continue cybersecurity initiatives and improvements, $13 million for security improvements and enhancements to election technology, and $575,000 for the Department of State to continue a contract with the Electronic Information Center to improve the accuracy of voter registration rolls and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.

The Freedom First Budget also proposes more than $900,000 to address cases brought forward from the proposed ‘Office of Election Crimes and Security’, and more than $200,000 to hire additional attorneys within the Florida Elections Commission to address an increased caseload.

In total, DeSantis is proposing to spend more than $28 million to address concerns of election fraud and security. 

Right now, there are no current pieces of legislation drafted to create the new office. We’ll have to wait until the Legislative session in January to learn how state lawmakers will tackle the issue.

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