An Election Police Force Is an Absolutely Terrible Idea

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis essentially wants to create his own police force to fix a nonexistent problem: voter fraud.
A Police officer watches voters, election officials and poll watchers at the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy polling station in Brookline, New Hampshire, on November 3, 2020. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/ AFP via Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis essentially wants to create his own police force to fix a nonexistent problem: voter fraud. And a lot of people think that’s a terrible idea.

During his State of the State address earlier this month, DeSantis announced his intention to create a small law enforcement team that would go to the polls and ensure votes are cast without issues. But experts say his pipe dream of a so-called election integrity unit would not only be redundant and a waste of time but would also exacerbate voter intimidation, especially for minorities, and give the governor too much power in the process.


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

Other Republicans are already embracing the idea though. David Perdue, the former Georgia senator who’s now running for governor, recently promised he’d also push for an election integrity unit in his state if elected later this year. And with six in ten Republicans still believing that Trump lost his reelection bid thanks to nefarious antics at the polls more than a year ago, there’s a good chance other prominent conservatives will gravitate toward the idea too.

“We could see a lot of state resources going toward solving a problem that doesn’t exist,” Sean Morales-Doyle, the Brennan Center for Justice’s director for voting rights and elections, told VICE News. “We hope that voters and taxpayers are paying attention to that. But this proposal from DeSantis being immediately followed up by a similar proposal in Georgia, it does make me worried that this is going to pick up steam.”

One of the main issues with DeSantis’ proposal is the unprecedented power it grants to a single head of state. If implemented as DeSantis pitched it, his election integrity unit would consist of 52 members, including 20 sworn police officers, who would be allowed to investigate and apprehend anyone for casting an illegal vote or a number of other election-related violations.


“Ballot harvesting has no place in Florida, and we need to increase the penalties for those who do it,” DeSantis said during his annual address on Jan. 11, referring to the process of submitting ballots on other people’s behalf. “We also need to ensure that supervisors clean the voter rolls, that only citizens are registered to vote and that mail ballots only go to those who actually request them before each individual election.”

(Reminder: There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.)

While U.S. governors are given certain powers to mobilize members of their states’ National Guard or declare a state of emergency, these powers all relate to the protection of their constituents in the face of disaster or other dangers rather than actively policing one of their constitutional rights.

“A police force under the authority of a political individual becomes a political army. That’s similar to, I don’t know, Russia?” Albert said. “In America, we have separation of powers. We have politicians, we have police, we have the judiciary. We have this in place to protect our democracy and to ensure that politicians do not use police as their personal army.”

“The governor of Florida does not have control over all Florida Police Departments or the FBI. And by proposing this integrity unit, it seems like that’s what he wants: a personal, political goon squad.”

In many states, including Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, law enforcement are allowed to oversee elections, a job often given to junior officers, according to Marq Claxton, a former police officer and director of political affairs for the Black Law Enforcement Alliance. But officers in those states are expected to follow the orders of election officials. In other states, like Pennsylvania and California, officers must be requested.

In all cases, police and other militarized people are strictly forbidden by law from interfering in the act of voting. And the law enforcement community is well aware of that.

“These officers are strictly there to ensure there’s no disorder or commotion, or to mediate any differences people may have,” Claxton told VICE News. “You’re there to ensure those rules are adhered to.”

Whether intentional or not, having police officers at the polls can also be a major deterrent for voters. Their presence is known to make some people feel uneasy. It’s why some states, like New Jersey, have banned cops at the polls, and others like Massachusetts have proposed similar rules.

“If you’ve got another police force that’s monitoring what’s going to happen, you are creating the circumstances that will chill people’s desire to go out and vote,” said Kirk Bailey, political director for Florida’s American Civil Liberties Union.

For Black and brown voters, seeing law enforcement at the polls could easily bring up bad memories of voter suppression techniques in the pre-civil rights–era South. Before 1965, police prevented Black people from voting, and the government used other tactics such as literacy tests and poll taxes to curtail their influence in elections.

“There was a time when police would be posted at voting locations actively prohibiting African Americans from voting,” Bailey said. “I'm not suggesting that's what this office would do, but the residue in those communities of law enforcement directly overseeing voting facilities remains.”

Formerly incarcerated people could also be susceptible to law enforcement intimidation for obvious reasons. Despite the ability to earn their right to vote back in states like Florida, Iowa, and Alabama, many already decide not to take part in the voting process because the consequences of being wrong about their voting status can be disastrous

Black and brown voters as well as formerly incarcerated eligible voters also tend to skew Democrat. It’s no accident that making them too afraid to show up at the polls would be a boon to the Republican Party.

On top of the numerous issues an election force would create, states already ensure their elections are fair. Florida has an extensive election audit process. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also already has the responsibility of investigating illegal activity at the polls if issues arise, according to Bailey. And the FBI investigates election issues on a federal level.

“This department works closely with elections supervisors,” Bailey said. “It’s a process that’s been successful in the past and continues to be successful now.”

The concept of using law enforcement, or even the military, to oversee elections isn’t new for Republicans. In the lead-up to the 2020 election, President Donald Trump implored his supporters to play watchdog and even threatened to send law enforcement to voting sites, all in the name of preventing fraud. And it worried voters: Three weeks before the 2020 presidential election, 67% of registered voters of all three parties believed there would be at least some attempt to intimidate voters, according to a poll by NPR, PBS, and Marist Poll

While DeSantis’ proposed election integrity unit is clearly the newest attempt to further the GOP’s mission, it’s unlikely he’ll get to execute his plan without support from law enforcement, who would want no part in the political minefield that is voting security, according to Claxton.

“To add that to the plate of legitimate law enforcement is absurd and unnecessary,” he said. “It exposes officers to additional liability. They’d get caught up into the debate and discussions of political ideologies, which is something responsible members of law enforcement would want to avoid.”