Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to ask lawmakers for more “election integrity reforms” during next year’s legislative session, as he has resisted pressure from within the Republican Party to audit the 2020 elections.
During a campaign-style event Wednesday in West Palm Beach, DeSantis said he will build on controversial election changes approved in April by the GOP-controlled Legislature. He said he will ask lawmakers during the 2022 session to create and staff a state-level office that would investigate and prosecute election-related crimes.
“If someone’s ballot harvesting, you report it to these people (in the proposed new office) and this is their sole job,” DeSantis said, referring to a practice that involves people collecting and delivering ballots for other voters.
“You know, some of these counties, some of them will do the cases,” DeSantis continued. “But that’s not their expertise. They’ve got all these other crimes that they have to deal with. So, by the time it happens, the election is already over. So, it’s not necessary. And some just don’t want to deal with it at all. So, now there’ll be specialists that are going to understand what’s legal, what’s not legal. They’re going to have the ability to investigate any crimes involving the election, and I think that’s going to be something that’s very, very important.”
DeSantis announced the plans as the law passed in April faces a series of legal challenges. Among other things, the law made it harder to cast ballots by mail, required voters to request mail-in ballots more frequently than in the past, added restrictions to drop boxes — where voters can drop off completed ballots — and sought to prevent ballot harvesting.
Opponents contend the law is designed to suppress voting by groups such as African-Americans, who vote heavily for Democrats. The legal challenges are pending in federal court.
DeSantis also announced the plans as he faces pressure in some Florida Republican circles to review the 2020 election for possible illegalities.
The Lake County Republican Party, for example, has approved a resolution calling for a full audit of the 2020 elections. Also, conservative operative Roger Stone, a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, said on social media he would consider running for governor in 2022 if DeSantis continues to refuse to order an audit.
“If Florida governor Ron DeSantis does not order an audit of the 2020 election to expose the fact that there are over 1 million phantom voters on the Florida voter rolls in the Sunshine state, I may be forced to seek the Libertarian Party nomination for governor (of) Florida in 2022,” Stone posted on the social-networking service Gab.
Last month, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee told lawmakers the state has already conducted an audit of the 2020 elections. Trump easily won in 2020 in Florida, though he lost nationally to Democrat Joe Biden.
“We have already completed an audit of all 67 counties,” Lee told the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee on Oct. 13. “And that audit demonstrated an exceedingly high level of election integrity and, again, demonstrated that our results were accurate, reliable.”
On Wednesday, the Division of Elections posted a video of Lee reiterating, “Florida’s election in 2020 was accurate, transparent, and conducted in compliance with Florida law.”
DeSantis also plans to ask lawmakers to bump up the criminal penalty for ballot harvesting from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.
Wednesday’s appearance was primarily a rally. For instance, DeSantis continued to attack Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has become a punching bag for Republicans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeSantis also laughed as the crowd chanted “Let’s Go Brandon,” a popular slogan among conservatives that is a derogatory reference to Biden. DeSantis called the Biden administration the “Brandon administration.”
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida