Looks Like Ron DeSantis Is Getting His Election Police Force

Florida will soon create a state security force focused entirely on policing elections.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in January 2021, proposing hiring an elections crimes staff
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in January 2021, proposing hiring an elections crimes staff. Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ grand plan for an election police force has been widely panned as an absolutely terrible idea in practice by experts nationally. But it didn’t prevent Florida’s state Legislature from passing a bill to create what’s essentially a new, first-of-its-kind security force to address a problem that doesn’t exist.

Florida’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to pass Senate Bill 524 Wednesday night, the last hurdle that the proposal championed by DeSantis earlier this year needed to cross before landing on the governor’s desk.

The bill approved by state legislators is dialed back from DeSantis’ original vision of a 52-member election integrity unit, which would include 20 sworn police officers who’d carry out investigations of election fraud. DeSantis wanted the unit to be able to arrest anyone caught casting an illegal vote or committing any other election-related violation, such as ballot harvesting.

Instead, the version he’s expected to sign would create a smaller but still 15-strong “Office of Election Crimes and Security” within Florida’s state department. DeSantis would also be able to appoint up to 10 law enforcement officers to specifically probe election crimes. Additionally, the bill would prohibit ranked-choice voting in the state, increase the fine for interfering with third-party voter registration forms from $1,000 to $50,000, and require the Office of Election Crimes to submit detailed reports of its findings to the governor annually. 


It would also rebrand voter drop boxes as “secure ballot intake stations,” which would now need to be supervised.

Though DeSantis sold the concept to his fellow Republicans and the public as a way of creating a more secure election process, experts say the bill is a veiled voter suppression tactic, particularly for Black and brown voters. In a state where minority voters tend to skew Democratic, especially among those who have been formerly incarcerated and have since earned their right to vote back, the bill is likely to have a targeted chilling effect that stands to benefit the GOP.

“It sends a very clear message to voters about the priorities of Florida government when it comes to democracy,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, the director for voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Even without the police force doing anything just yet, the shift in rhetoric, the willingness to set this thing up, and the publicity that will surround it send a message to voters in certain communities who are going to be intimidated.”

Experts also told VICE News the election integrity unit would be redundant since Florida already has an election audit process in place. Plus, the Department of Law Enforcement, along with the FBI, already investigates illicit activity at the polls.

“The governor of Florida does not have control over all Florida police departments or the FBI,” Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, told VICE News when DeSantis first announced his plans. “And by proposing this integrity unit, it seems like that’s what he wants: a personal, political goon squad.”

Florida will be the first state in the country to create such an entity. The new office will cost the state $3.7 million, Republican Rep. Daniel Perez, who helped advocate for the bill in the state House, told CNN.

“There’s nothing more foundational to our democracy than free and fair elections,” Perez tweeted Wednesday.

Nationally, the Republican Party continues to claim it wants to improve the integrity of elections in the country. That’s largely thanks to former President Donald Trump, who manufactured and popularized the baseless idea that the elections were stolen during his initial win in 2016 and again in the lead-up and immediate aftermath of his defeat in the 2020 presidential election. Federal and state investigations have repeatedly turned up no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

With the bill’s passage in Florida, Morales Doyle says there’s a good chance we’ll see even more support from Republicans in other states who want to pass their own version of the bill. Former Sen. David Purdue, who’s now running for governor in Georgia, has already proposed adopting DeSantis’ idea if elected.

“There have been a number of Republicans in recent years that have brought up these task forces, but they’re usually not calling for police and are more along the lines of a group of lawyers in an attorney general’s office,” Morales Doyle said. “When you’re setting up police forces to go after election crimes, you’re really coming at democracy from the wrong angle.”