Florida’s statewide prosecutor will have new power to go after people for election-related crimes under a bill now headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ desk.
The bill, which passed the state House of Representatives on Friday on a 77-33 vote, is a top priority for the Republican governor, who last year approved the creation of a controversial new Office of Elections Crimes and Security as part of a sweeping voting overhaul. The state Senate already passed the new bill on Wednesday, 27-12, along party lines. Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers.
The measure comes after DeSantis initiated a crackdown on voter fraud that resulted in the arrest of 20 individuals accused of voting illegally in 2020. However, the move hit a legal snag in some cases, including in Miami-Dade County, where a judge dismissed a case against a Miami defendant on the grounds that the state prosecutor had acted beyond its authority.
The bill clarifies that the state prosecutor, a position under the Florida attorney general, has jurisdiction on election and voting matters. The move would allow the DeSantis administration to steer prosecution of cases identified by the Office of Elections Crimes and Security to a prosecutor appointed by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, and not leave it up to local elected district attorneys, who could be Democrats.
A coalition of civil and voting rights groups, including the NAACP Florida, ACLU of Florida, Common Cause Florida, All Voting is Local Action, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, League of Women Voters of Florida, Legal Defense Fund, and Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, responded to the legislation’s passage by calling it “a solution in search of a problem.”
“This bill is being heard and swiftly passed only because the Governor desires to expand his prosecutorial authority over Floridians who are lawfully trying to exercise their right to vote. The office made arrests, claimed jurisdiction, and is now seeking to change the law after the courts said no. We have grave concerns about the potential for this office targeting returning citizens for honest mistakes about their eligibility to vote in an effort to intimidate communities of color,” the coalition said in a statement Friday.
In debate before Friday’s vote, state Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, said she was “incredibly concerned that because there are some in the Republican base who think elections were stolen that we’re feeding that narrative.”
GOP state Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, however, said the legislation “further protects the integrity of our most sacred right: the right to vote.
“This insures fraud will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, the way it should,” the Miami lawmaker said.