Republicans want a new tool in the elusive search for voter fraud: election police

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WASHINGTON — Picking up on the rigged election belief that has become a mantra among their supporters, Republican politicians in at least three states are proposing to create police forces to exclusively hunt voter fraud and other election crimes, a class of offenses which experts say is tiny at best.

The plans are part of a new wave of initiatives that Republicans say target voter fraud. They are condemned by suffrage advocates and even some local election supervisors, who call them a costly and unnecessary appeasement of the Republican base that will select primary election winners for November’s midterm elections and the race. presidential election in 2024.

The next round of election clashes comes after the apparent disappearance of Democratic voting rights legislation in Washington on Thursday. It reminds us that while the Democratic agenda in Washington seems dead, Republican efforts at the state level to make it harder to vote show no signs of abating.

Supporters say the additional app will eliminate cases of fraud and assure the public that everything is being done to ensure US elections are accurate and legitimate. Critics say the efforts can easily be abused and used as political cudgels or efforts to intimidate people into registering and voting. And Democrats say the main reason Republican voters have lost faith in the electoral system is Republicans’ relentless focus on almost entirely imaginary fraud.

The most concrete proposal is in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis last week asked the state legislature for $5.7 million to create a 52-person “election and security crimes” force within the Office of the Secretary of State. The plan, which Mr. DeSantis has been touting since the fall, would include 20 sworn police officers and field offices across the state.

This was followed Thursday by a pledge by David Perdue, the former Republican gubernatorial senator from Georgia, to create his own election police force “to make Georgia’s elections the safest and most secure in the country.” . Mr Perdue, who lost his Senate seat in 2020, claimed Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican seeking re-election, has weakened electoral standards and refused to investigate allegations of fraud following President Biden’s narrow victory in the state.

And in Arizona, a staunch supporter of former President Donald J. Trump’s lies about a stolen election, State Senator Wendy Rogers, has filed legislation to establish a $5 million “elections office.” dollars in the governor’s office with the power to subpoena witnesses and confiscate election materials.

Ms Rogers’ bill likely faces a rocky road in the Legislature, where Republicans have little control and have been beaten for their support of a widely ridiculed multimillion-dollar investigation into the results of the 2020 election. The prospects for the Florida and Georgia proposals are less clear.

The proposals are the latest twist in a decades-long Republican-led crusade against voter fraud that has grown rapidly since Mr Trump’s 2020 election defeat and his false claim that victory was stolen from him.

Mr DeSantis took a hard line in November when he unveiled his proposal, saying the new unit would prosecute the crimes the local elections official was shrugging off. “There will be people, if you see someone harvesting ballots, you know, what do you do? If you call the election office, a lot of times they don’t do anything,” he said during an appearance in West Palm Beach.

“I guarantee it,” he added. “The first person who gets caught, no one will want to do it again after that.”

None of the three states — and for that matter, none of the other 47 and the District of Columbia — has reported more than a tiny number of cases of voter fraud after the 2020 races. Mr. DeSantis said after the vote in 2020 that it was “the state that got it right and that other states should emulate”. The only notable indication of impropriety in Florida was the recent arrest for fraud of four men at a retirement complex north of Orlando. At least two of them appeared to be Winter Floridians accused of having voted both there and in more frigid northern states.

But Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Perdue say their strike forces are still needed to root out further election irregularities and bolster their constituents’ sagging faith in the honesty of the vote. The same reasoning has fueled so-called audits of election results and crackdowns on election rules by Republican-led legislatures across the country.

Sweeping revisions to election law signed into law by lawmakers in Florida and Georgia last spring sharply limit use of popular drop boxes to submit mail-in ballots, require ID to obtain ballots by correspondence, make it more difficult to conduct voter registration campaigns and restrict or prohibit interactions. – such as the distribution of snacks or water – with voters queuing to vote.

Mr Trump comfortably won Florida by around 370,000 votes in 2020, and his small losses in Arizona and Georgia have been confirmed by expert audits, recounts and even the famous Cyber ​​Ninjas survey of voting in Maricopa County.

“We don’t need any further investigations into free and fair elections,” said Alex Gulotta, Arizona director of the advocacy group All Voting Is Local. “We have established this again and again and again. It’s more pablum for people who believe in fraud and conspiracy theories and lies that the last election was stolen.

Neither the new laws nor the election autopsies appear to have shaken the belief of many Trump supporters that the electoral system is suspect. Some academics say they see the police force as the latest attempt by politicians to eliminate that itch.

Bids aimed at combating so-called fraud are becoming the norm for Republican candidates who want to win over voters, Barry Burden, director of the Center for Election Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in an interview. “Whoever’s the nominee in 2024, whether it’s Trump or anybody else, that’s likely going to be part of their platform,” Burden said.

The idea of ​​an electoral police force is not new, even in the states where it is proposed. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger already oversees 23 investigators whose jurisdiction includes election irregularities, and an assistant state attorney general exclusively prosecutes crimes in elections, the court system and local governments. Arizona’s attorney general runs a relatively new “election integrity” investigative unit, and election violations in Florida are prosecuted by state and local authorities, as is the case in most states. .

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