Some GOP states seek new police units for election investigations

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republicans responding to the myth of widespread voter fraud are turning to a new tactic to appease voters who believe the claims: election police.

Efforts to establish law enforcement units dedicated to investigating election crimes come as Republican lawmakers and governors scramble to satisfy the millions of their party’s voters who believe the government’s false claims former President Donald Trump that widespread voter fraud cost him his re-election in 2020.

In Florida, Republican lawmakers passed an election policing bill pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, who justified its need by citing unspecified cases of fraud. Similar legislation in Georgia would allow the state Bureau of Investigation to investigate allegations of voter fraud without invitation from other officials.

Republicans say special police powers are needed to restore confidence in elections and uncover cases of fraud. Democrats and voting rights groups say the new layer of law enforcement would be redundant, given that local and state authorities are already identifying and prosecuting potential fraud cases, and could be exploited for purposes. partisans.

Increased law enforcement involvement can deter voters from wanting to vote and even local election officials offering to help, said Daniel Griffith, director of policy for Secure Democracy USA, a nonpartisan vote access group.

“Everybody’s worried a little more, am I going to be investigated, am I going to be arrested just for trying to vote or helping someone to vote?” he said.

Voter fraud is rare, usually occurs in isolated cases, and is usually detected. An Associated Press investigation into the 2020 presidential election found fewer than 475 potential cases of voter fraud in 25.5 million ballots cast in the six states where Trump and his allies contested his loss to the president Joe Biden.

Nevertheless, Trump’s false claims have proliferated in the GOP. They sparked a wave of laws last year that imposed new requirements on voters to vote early or by mail in Republican-controlled states, along with a host of other critics of the rules that were called restrictive .

Republicans introduced a narrower set of state voting bills this year that they often explained were necessary to prevent fraud, though not all were successful. In Arizona, another battleground state lost to Trump, legislation that would have created an agency within the governor’s office to investigate voter fraud with subpoena power has not advanced.

Florida’s proposal passed earlier this month creates a 15-person Election Crimes and Security Bureau under the State Department, which is headed by a governor’s appointee. The unit would be responsible for receiving complaints of electoral fraud and conducting preliminary investigations.

DeSantis would then be required to appoint a group of special officers within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who would pursue the complaints. The 10 officers would have police powers and report to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Under current state law, the governor of Florida can appoint officers to investigate election law violations, but is not required to do so.

The governor has previously hailed the state’s 2020 election as smooth and has resisted calls for a review of the results similar to a partisan effort that was conducted in Arizona but ultimately found no evidence of wrongdoing.

“I really think we have a lot of procedures in place to deal with these issues, and I’m concerned that we’re setting up a police force without guardrails,” said Sen. Lori Berman, Democrat. “We don’t know who can launch the investigation, there’s nothing stopping it being used to target certain groups, and I’m really concerned that we have this kind of team that is totally out there without any oversight.”

As Florida’s bill progressed through the GOP-controlled legislature, Republicans repeatedly pointed to a small number of election crimes in the state to justify the proposal.

They noted four cases of people caught voting twice and reports of mostly elderly Hispanic voters in South Florida whose party registration was wrongly changed from Democrat to Republican by GOP canvassers. Some Republicans also suggested there were dozens of additional undisclosed fraud cases in the state, which Trump won, but offered no evidence.

“Are we afraid that our elections are too secure? Republican Senator Travis Hutson, sponsor of the bill, said in advocating for the legislation.

Critics said the measure was a way for DeSantis to appease those who believe the 2020 election was fraudulent and bolster his rise in the Republican Party.

“It’s really a response to the pressure to pursue even wackier ideas, like reviving the 2020 election,” said Brad Ashwell, Florida state director of advocacy group All Voting is Local.

Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee, a Republican, said the office would review all complaints to ensure the security of the state’s election. Mallory E. Morgan, press secretary for the Florida Department of State, said DeSantis would not direct allegations that should or should not be investigated.

“The governor just wants to make sure that Floridians have a clear and simple way to report suspected voter fraud, and that a dedicated team of law enforcement personnel can address it according to law,” he said. she declared.

DeSantis is expected to sign the bill in the coming weeks.

In Georgia, Republicans have also called for dedicated police units to investigate election crimes.

Election issues are currently being handled by investigators with police powers in the office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has drawn scorn from the GOP for rejecting Trump’s request to “find” enough votes for he can undo Biden’s victory in the state in 2020.

State House Republicans recently approved a proposal to allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to dedicate officers to election crimes, among a host of other voting-related provisions. Lawmakers included $579,000 in next year’s budget for four Georgia Bureau of Investigation positions. Officers would have police powers and report to the office manager.

Raffensperger endorsed the idea, as did Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, saying it would give greater confidence in the election. The AP’s survey of the six battleground states found just 64 cases of potential fraud in Georgia from the 2020 presidential election, representing 0.54% of Biden’s margin of victory in the state. Almost half of these cases were determined to be the result of an administrative or other error.

The bill is now moving through the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats have said they are concerned that a law enforcement agency’s involvement in the election could intimidate black voters, given the history of police being used to suppress the vote during the election. segregation.

“We see the people in the majority party doing exactly what they have done before, using whatever means necessary to hold on to power,” Rep. Derek Mallow, a Democrat, said this week. “And we all know why we see another bill attacking our electoral system and our election workers in the state of Georgia. It has nothing to do with the integrity or security of elections. This bill is about the majority party legislating a lie, the big lie.

Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed from Atlanta.


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