The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Ron DeSantis’s election police squad would poison democracy

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) addresses a joint session of the state's legislature on Jan. 11. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)
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On its face, it seems like the sort of thing that would be hard to oppose: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to create a special agency to police elections in his state. Who but criminals have anything to fear?

But look at the state’s recent electoral history, and the plan gets more puzzling. Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, won the governor’s mansion in 2018 in a tight election. Donald Trump carried the state handily in 2016 and 2020. Election officials reported results efficiently, enabling networks to call these races on election night. Mr. DeSantis himself declared that the state sets “the gold standard” in election administration. Florida obviously is not rife with the anti-GOP fraud that Mr. Trump alleges cost him 2020 presidential victories in other states.

Mr. DeSantis nevertheless wants state lawmakers to pony up $6 million to hire 52 people for his election police squad — which, naturally, would be under the governor’s control and would investigate allegations of election crimes submitted by “government officials or any other person.” Recently, Americans have heard many such allegations from the GOP side. If Mr. Trump had his way, government investigators would no doubt be impounding Dominion Voting Systems election machines and grilling election officials in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania based on outlandish allegations about the 2020 vote. Whether Florida’s voting cops would field tips from partisans acting in bad faith or dupes who really believe that fraud is ubiquitous in U.S. elections, it is not hard to foresee them harassing election officials or voting rights groups who are simply trying to help people to vote.

This would chill legitimate election work. In this, Mr. DeSantis’s proposal would be similar to an anti-voting law Texas lawmakers passed recently, which would threaten election workers with criminal penalties for transgressions as mild as proactively offering voters mail-in ballot applications. In both cases, the effect is to intimidate people into thinking twice about doing anything they fear state authorities might construe as illegal.

Perhaps that is why right-wing conspiracy theorists not only want Mr. DeSantis to get his election police, but for other states to create their own voting squads, too. Former senator David Perdue, a Georgia Republican running to unseat sitting Gov. Brian Kemp (R), called Thursday for his state to create an “Election Law Enforcement Division.”

Suppressing election activity may be only part of the point. Mr. Perdue is eager to remain in Mr. Trump’s good graces; Mr. DeSantis, trying to rise from the former president’s shadow, looks as though he is trying to out-Trump Mr. Trump. Both seek to cater to a GOP base among whom fake allegations of fraud are not just believed, but considered a critical national crisis.

Florida already has plenty of sworn law enforcement officers capable of deterring and punishing election crimes. Georgia’s secretary of state has 23 investigators available to examine voting crimes. The system as it stands has kept fraud vanishingly rare in the United States. Proposals such as Mr. DeSantis’s would only work to poison America’s democracy.

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