Long-time figure in Florida government Peter Antonacci has been tapped to lead Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new election-crime investigation team.
DeSantis announced the Antonacci appointment through a press release on Wednesday. He will direct of the new Office of Election Crimes and Security under the Department of State, reporting to Secretary of State Cord Byrd.
The Legislature voted this year to create the office at DeSantis’ urging in a Republican-led push to ensure “voting integrity” despite the overall agreement that the 2020 election ran smoothly in Florida.
The law also imposes felony penalties for “ballot harvesting,” or delivering mail-in-ballots for multiple non-family members, as well as other restrictions.
Antonacci has had a decades-long history in Florida politics in a multitude of roles. The Phoenix previously reported that “governors since Bob Graham in the 1980s have turned to him for sensitive jobs.” These have included:
- Director and chief judge of the Division of Administrative Hearings;
- Broward County Elections Supervisor in 2018;
- General counsel to former Gov. Rick Scott;
- Deputy state attorney general under former Attorney General Bob Butterworth;
- State attorney in Palm Beach County.
Leon Supervisor of Election Mark Earley said in a written statement distributed by the governor’s office that he trusts Antonacci “will serve the people of Florida with an even hand to ensure the continued fairness and sanctity of our elections process,” and that he “understands the complexities of election law and the need for a reserved and judicious application of the power this new office wields.”
Earley told the Phoenix that Antonacci was a “good choice” but that he remains skeptical about how the new elections investigation office could be misused.
“Time will tell how the office evolves,” said Earley, who also serves as the president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections.
Earley said that preexisting election statutes permit challenges to the eligibility of a voter, but that filing a frivolous challenge and complaint against a voter is a crime.
“But there’s no similar language in the powers of investigation and things like that area of statute with regards to this office,” he said. “It’s concerning to me because, potentially, this could be used to intimidate voters — potentially.”
Early did say that he worked with Antonacci before and that “he did a good job as a supervisor of Broward County in the 2020 election.”
“I have high regard for Pete Antonacci, and I think he’s, probably, of all the choices that were out there, one of the better choices available,” Earley said. “I don’t know who was being considered, but I think Pete’s, hopefully, on the right track here with this and will do it well.”
Pans from Fried
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination to run against DeSantis for governor, called the appointment “absurd” in a campaign email.
“Peter Antonacci is a Federalist Society darling. His appointment by DeSantis is purely political,” Fried said in a written statement. “We already have fraud laws on the books that should be enforced. What we need is real nonpartisan election reform.”
The Federalist Society is a conservative organization that advocates for so-called “originalist” interpretations of the U.S. Constitution and other conservative policies. Many of DeSantis’s appointments have ties to the organization.
–Danielle J. Brown, Florida Phoenix