WEST PALM BEACH, Fla — Gov. Ron DeSantis says he's going to "strengthen the integrity" of future elections during the upcoming legislative session by creating an office to crack down on election crime even though such issues are extremely rare.
During a speech Wednesday in West Palm Beach, DeSantis stated some of his plans for the next session that begins in January 2022.
“What we are going to do is create a separate office at the state level solely to investigating election crimes in the state of Forida," Governor DeSantis stated.
Florida has already seen a rigorous election restrictions bill as a result of the last legislative session, but DeSantis promises another package to "strengthen the integrity" of elections is forthcoming.
“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 latest election restrictions bill banned ballot harvesting, required voter ID for absentee ballots and restricted drop box use for early voting.
"I don't think we should have drop boxes, to be honest with you," DeSantis said Wednesday.
Although he has repeatedly claimed "big tech" interfered with free speech during the 2020 election, DeSantis has previously touted Florida had "the most transparent and efficient election anywhere in the country."
Still, DeSantis is adamant elections in the Sunshine State need to be even more secure.
DeSantis says he plans to create a separate office solely dedicated to "investigating and prosecuting" election crime. And, he says the state plans to make "ballot harvesting" a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
DeSantis also proposed the need to "clean up" voter databases in Florida after a certain number of years, alluding to the potential of voter fraud via mail-in ballots.
Research from both sides of the political aisle reveals voter fraud is statistically rare.
An 18-month investigation of assertions of 2018 voter fraud in Florida concluded in 2020. As the New York Times notes, the probe found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. While an elections supervisor in Republican-dominated Bay County counted 12 votes submitted via email, the Times said prosecutors determined they didn't have enough evidence to make a case.
The Heritage Foundation, a well-known conservative think tank, tracks election fraud cases on its website. It listed only six individual examples in 2018, and none from years since.
The generally-progressive Brennan Center for Justice releases reports on voter fraud, which have revealed most reported incidents are actually traceable to other problems like clerical errors or bad data matching. One report found incident rates of voter fraud were somewhere between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent nationwide.
If you look at the state's website, the Florida Division of Elections office recieved 262 complaints of election fraud, of those, 71 were reported to law enforcement. State officials told 10 Tampa Bay they couldn't say if any were prosecuted by law enforcement.
Here in Florida, as in elsewhere across the country, misinformation about the 2020 presidential race has those who help run elections more so concerned about the future.
Prior to Election Day 2021, Florida's Republican and Democratic elections supervisors sent a united message to candidates and officials: "Tone down the rhetoric and stand up for our democracy."
"We are dedicated to the cause of election integrity, ensuring that every eligible voter’s ballot is counted accurately and that no fraud takes place," reads the memo from the Florida Supervisors of Elections. It represents officials from across the political spectrum in each of the state's 67 counties.
"But false claims of fraud do not strengthen our elections. Instead, they degrade confidence in the institutions and discourage citizen participation in our democracy."
An official in Collier County with the election office said election crime is rare. “Election crime, voter fraud, very rare. As I mentioned, we only turned eight names in 2020. They weren’t even prosecuted. There was no intent there,” Trish Robertson stated.
In Manatee County, the Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett said, in his 10 years as the supervisor, there has only been one prosecuted case of election fraud.
Former President Donald Trump, who – with the support of some allies – was one of the main sources of such misinformation, challenged the final result in lawsuits across the country but ultimately was unsuccessful. The Supreme Court in early March turned away one of the last attempts.
Politico notes the supervisors' memo comes as DeSantis' campaign sent an email to supporters on Wednesday hoping to raise money off of fears of election tampering. Democrats, the campaign email charged, "used the pandemic as an excuse to change election laws in ways that are unconstitutional and ripe for fraud and abuse in our elections."
Many elections officials across the country Vice spoke with told the outlet they want to quit given a rise in threats to their families and themselves, including death, based on the false claims about the election. Earlier this summer, the Justice Department announced the formation of a task force meant to investigate threats of violence.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected as DeSantis outlined his proposals for the next legislative session that begins in January 2022, not the special session that is slated to involve vaccine mandates.