Gov. Ron DeSantis isn't trying to outlaw voting, exactly. But he does want to start treating polling places as potential crime scenes: The Florida Republican has proposed creating a new "Office of Election Crime and Security" to hunt down and prosecute violations of election law in his state. It would have a nearly $6 million budget and employ 52 investigators — "a staff larger than most police departments have to solve murders," one Florida newspaper observed.
"This will facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws and will provide Floridians with the confidence that their vote will count," DeSantis said in his "State of the State" address last week.
Actually, it seems like a great way to scare Floridians away from voting. You have to suspect that's the intent.
DeSantis' agency would be empowered to combat voter fraud, the great bogeyman of GOP nightmares. The problem, of course, is that there's not that much fraud — even in Florida. A mere three Trump supporters in Central Florida were arrested in December for casting multiple votes in the 2020 election, and Republicans often embarrass themselves when they go hunting for election violations. DeSantis himself once boasted of the state's election processes: "The way Florida did it, I think inspires confidence, I think that's how elections should be run," he said after Donald Trump narrowly won his state.
Still, it's a truism that any government agency designed to find problems will find problems, if only to justify its own existence. "What in the world are 52 investigators going to do all year long? Wait for the phone to ring?" one Democrat told the Tampa Bay Times. Rather than restore confidence in voting, the new agency would probably make conservative Floridians unjustifiably paranoid about voter fraud — and probably have a chilling effect on "get out the vote" efforts.
A little bit of context is required here. Florida is the state where citizens voted to restore voting rights to ex-felons — and were promptly undermined by the Republican-controlled legislature. It's a state where a GOP candidate for Congress is refusing to concede a race he just lost by 59 points. And it's a state, not incidentally, where DeSantis has proposed new congressional district maps that diminish Black and Latino voting power.
So it's reasonable to conclude that DeSantis' proposed police agency is just another Florida Republican effort to keep Democrats away from the polls. You don't have to outlaw voting to accomplish that task. You just have to treat voters like outlaws.