With the GOP governor’s signature, Florida has become one of the first states in the country with a unit focused on election fraud, an exceedingly rare problem that has become an animating issue for some Republican voters following former President Donald Trump’s 2020 loss.
“I don’t think there is any other place in the country where you should have more confidence that your vote counts than in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said at a news conference before signing the law.
The new law marks the second major overhaul of Florida’s election laws since the 2020 election – as supporters of Trump clamor for more voting restrictions and changes to election administration ahead of midterm elections. Trump and his allies falsely maintain that widespread election fraud led to his 2020 defeat.
Trump won the Sunshine State by a comfortable margin that year, and Florida officials, including DeSantis, previously have said the 2020 election went smoothly.
The new law creates an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Florida Department of State – an agency under DeSantis’ jurisdiction – with a staff of 15 to conduct preliminary investigations of election fraud. In addition, the measure calls for DeSantis to appoint up to 10 law enforcement officers to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate election crimes.
During Monday’s news conference, DeSantis said local election supervisors and prosecutors do not necessarily have the expertise and tools to investigate voting-related complaints. The new officers would specialize in election-related crimes, he said.
“We just want to make sure whatever laws are on the books that those laws are enforced,” the governor added.
The combined program will cost $ 3.7 million, state Rep. Daniel Perez, a top sponsor, said during the legislative debate. DeSantis initially sought nearly $ 6 million for a 52-member force.
The new Florida law also increases penalties for violating Florida election laws. It makes it a felony to collect and submit more than two vote-by-mail ballots on behalf of other voters. It previously was a misdemeanor to do so. It also increases the fine from $ 1,000 to $ 50,000 on organizations that violate voter registration laws.
Cecile Scoon, president of the Women’s Voters League of Florida, called the new $ 50,000 fine a “direct threat” to her organization.
“When you couple the increased fines with the new election investigators, it doesn’t give you a warm or cozy feeling,” she told CNN in March as state lawmakers debated the measure.
Florida officials have already filed notice that they intend to appeal that decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. And election law experts say Walker’s ruling is likely to be overturned by either the conservative-leaning 11th Circuit or the US Supreme Court.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Steve Contorno contributed to this story.