The Florida Senate late Friday passed a voting law package that would create an office to pursue election-related crimes—the first of its kind in the country.
The state’s Republican-controlled upper chamber voted 23–15 for the measure, Senate Bill 524, on party lines, sending the bill to the state’s Republican-controlled House, which is set to vote on the measure and send it to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk next week.
The legislation, if passed, would create a 15-person Office of Election Crimes and Security under the Department of State to investigate fraud allegations.
Under the measure, the governor would also be required to appoint 10 special officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to augment the office. They would be dedicated to investigating violations of election law. Current state law allows the governor to appoint such officers but does not require him to do so.
DeSantis, a Republican, first proposed the need for an election police unit in 2021. In January this year, Desantis said in his State of the State address the unit would serve to “ensure that elections are conducted in accordance with the rule of law” and would solely focus on enforcing Florida’s election laws.
“This will facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws and will provide Floridians with the confidence that their vote will count,” he said.
Another measure in the law package includes increasing the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for ballot harvesting—described in the bill as “[u]nlawfully distributing, ordering, requesting, collecting, delivering, or possessing vote-by-mail ballots.” The legislation also increases fines for certain election law violations, and requires election supervisors to maintain their voter lists annually rather than every two years.
The new bill comes after the Republican-controlled legislature and DeSantis passed an election integrity law that restricts mail-in ballots and ballot drop boxes. The law requires voters to provide their driver’s license number, state ID number, or last four digits of a Social Security number in order to request a mail-in ballot. The law, Senate Bill 90, is currently on trial in federal court after being challenged by voting rights groups.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.