After passing numerous restrictive voting laws in the past year, Republican state legislators have added a new item to their agenda: elections police forces.
On March 9, Florida’s legislature approved the creation of such a unit, which would include an office of 25 staffers and cost about $2.5 million. Just a week later, on March 15, Georgia’s Republican-dominated House approved a similar but more vague measure that would allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI), which has no expertise in voting or elections, to prosecute election crimes; that measure now heads to the state Senate. These units will be the nation’s first.
Republicans, inciting fraudulent claims of voter fraud widespread, claim the proposed legislation is necessary to ensure elections are secure by preventing voter corruption. But voting rights advocates say that’s disingenuous. Many studies have been done, one of which was commissioned by Trump Administration. A AP investigation discovered that less than 475 cases of voter fraud were possible out of the 25.5 million votes cast in six states. Trump and his associates disputed these results.
These laws, according to voting rights advocates, are intended to lower voter turnout in particular among ethnic and racial minorities who vote Democratic.
According to Aklima Khondoker (chief legal officer of the New Georgia Project), the news that the police would be looking into election matters in Georgia will chill voters. “If you think you made a mistake, and now you’re going to be investigated by the GBI, that’s big and scary,” Khondoker says, adding that the GBI does not generally investigate election law. “They consider criminal matters almost exclusively,” she says.
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Brad Ashwell is Florida’s state director for All Voting is Local. He believes the laws in Florida will likely deter minorities. “It creates a climate of fear that if they misstep they’re going to have election police coming after them,” he says. “And it feeds into nearly a century of history of law enforcement being used for voter intimidation purposes, which has historically mostly impacted Black and Hispanic and other marginalized voters.”
Florida’s measure appears likely to become law. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis had originally proposed a much more ambitious electoral police force, which would have employed more than 50 people full time and cost nearly $6 million. The current proposal, though weaker, still meets his larger goals. Mark Early, supervisor of elections for Leon County, which includes Tallahassee, says the original proposal was “much, much worse” because it was more expensive and demanded the devoting of more resources to prosecuting election crimes. The current measure, he says, is “primarily unnecessary.”
“Are the miniscule numbers of legitimate complaints that are going to be investigated really going to justify this?” says Abdelilah Skhir, voting rights policy strategist for the ACLU of Florida. “ It’s a solution looking for a problem.”
Georgia’s measure faces more headwinds. While Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has supported the Republican “election integrity” platform, he said in January that he would not sign any more changes to the state’s election law. Political pressures continue to mount. On May 24, Trump-backed David Perdue will face Kemp in the Republican primary. Perdue has embraced the measure explicitly, calling for an “Election Law Enforcement Division” in the state.
Brad Raffensperger was the Republican Secretary-of State. He rose in national popularity after the 2020 Presidential Elections.r President Trump asked him, in a recorded phone call in January 2021, to “find” 11,780 More Republican votes have also called for more security at the polling stations. “This year, we’re going to have hard-fought campaigns that are going to be watched all across the country, and every indication is that we’re going to have close races,” Raffensperger said at a February press conference. “With that environment, it only makes sense to provide additional resources for election security, so that everyone can have confidence in the results.”
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Georgia’s proposal takes away power from the state election board and Secretary of State’s office, which are currently the main entities charged with investigating claims of election crimes, and gives it to the GBI. . Voting rights supporters argue that the current system gives voters more control and allows them to take responsibility for their problems. Because it specialises in criminal investigations, the GBI might be less likely to press charges.
“Our fear now is, if you pass this along to the GBI, they’re going to start issuing subpoenas to people. They’re going to make these big requests of folks who don’t understand the election infrastructure that Georgia currently has,” Khondoker says. She adds that the proposal lacks clarity in what role the state election board or Secretary of State’s Office would play, in addition to having no cost estimate or proposed analysis on the possible racial impact of the measure.
Florida’s proposal does not define which “election irregularities” might trigger an investigation. Ashwell suggests Republican lawmakers left the language “purposely” vague, so investigators can go after anything they perceive as being a problem.”
“It lacks guardrails,” Ashwell warns, “that could prevent it from being politically weaponized.”
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