Florida’s new office targeting election crimes is a model for the rest of the country, based on its transparency and capacity to restore trust in elections, a new report from a watchdog group says.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, last year signed a bill creating the Office of Election Crimes and Security.
The Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative government watchdog group, released a report Wednesday praising the Florida office even as Democrats and legacy media outlets have criticized its investigations.
“Since its creation, Florida’s election crimes unit has received more than 2,000 complaints and initiated nearly 1,000 independent investigations,” the report from the Foundation for Government Accountability says.
“More than 1,500 cases have been referred to another agency and 234 cases were referred to special agents,” the report says. “These investigations are already producing results with the arrest of 20 individuals.”
The FGA report notes that American voters increasingly lack confidence in election results, and that this trend should be reversed.
The report notes that other states such as Arizona, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia have set up similar election integrity offices, but underlines that these offices need improvements and should “show their work” as Florida does.
“We need transparency once there are doubts about democratic outcomes; transparency goes a long way to reassure those doubts,” Michael Greibrok, senior research fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability and co-author of the report, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.
“You can track the complaints and see that each complaint wasn’t just put in a box somewhere,” Greibrok said. “This is also a signal to would-be election law violators.”
Florida’s law requires the new Office of Election Crimes and Security to provide an annual report each Jan. 15 specifying the number of complaints; the number of independent investigations; the number of complaints referred to another agency for further investigation or prosecution; and the source of each alleged violation of election law and where it occurred.
The report from the election crimes office goes to the governor and the Florida Legislature and is made available to the public online.
“This means that not only are alleged violations of election law investigated, but the public can view the results of these investigations,” the FGA report says. “Bad actors are held accountable, and the public has their confidence in elections restored as they can see how the state protects election integrity.”
As I wrote in my book “The Myth of Voter Suppression,” Florida has had some high-profile voter fraud cases in the past, and in some cases they led to voided elections.
A court ordered a new election after a tainted race for Miami mayor in 1997 led to the conviction of 54 persons. In 2017, the mayor of Eatonville, Florida, was convicted on felony charges of voter fraud.
In late March, two residents of Hillsborough County, Florida, pleaded guilty to felony charges of illegal voting. However, a judge in Broward County threw out another case, asserting that the state’s new election crimes unit lacked jurisdiction.
Critics of the Florida law note that most of the office’s initial 20 cases were dismissed, largely on jurisdictional grounds. The Florida Legislature also approved adjustments to the law.
The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal think tank that denies voter fraud occurs, criticized DeSantis’ election crimes office in a February report, saying: “Florida’s prosecution of ineligible voters with past convictions was politically motivated from the beginning. The individuals accused didn’t knowingly commit voter fraud—they simply weren’t aware that their past criminal convictions barred them from voting.”
Last year, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, both Republicans, established an elections unit in their respective offices.
As far back as 2015, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, created an election integrity unit; since that time, it has prosecuted 155 individuals for 534 election fraud offenses. Paxton’s office also has 510 offenses pending prosecution and another 386 ongoing election fraud investigations.
Similar to Florida, lawmakers in Louisiana and Arizona created a unit by statute.
“But Louisiana is also an example of how even states that have an election crimes unit show room for improvement,” the FGA report says, specifying:
An audit revealed that it could be improved by categorizing complaints, tracking the status of complaints, and sharing this information with the public. The [Louisiana] Department of State agreed with this recommendation, which essentially involves better tracking and increasing transparency for the public.
The report goes on to say: “Arizona should serve as a cautionary tale for other states.”
That’s because new Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, “will now focus on increasing voting access rather than investigating election fraud,” according to the report.
The report adds: “Legislation should be clear that the unit’s duties are to receive and investigate allegations of election crimes and refer individuals for prosecution when there is evidence of a crime.”
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