May 17, 2023 - Politics & Policy

House Dems call for probe into DeSantis' use of Florida police force

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) speaking in Sioux Center, Iowa, on May 13.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) speaking in Sioux Center, Iowa, on May 13. Photo: Rebecca S. Gratz for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday called for an investigation into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's (R) handling of the state's law enforcement agency.

Why it matters: A trio of Judiciary Democrats alleged that DeSantis, who is expected to launch a presidential campaign in coming weeks, directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) "to act in furtherance of his political agenda" and to intimidate voters.

The big picture: In April 2022, DeSantis signed legislation creating a statewide law enforcement agency, the Office of Election Crimes and Security (OECS), to investigate voter fraud and other election crimes and to refer those possible crimes to FDLE.

  • The OECS has forwarded to the FDLE at least 1,094 cases of alleged voter fraud in the 2020 general election and around 70 of alleged unlawful voting in the 2022 general election, though hundreds of those cases were either closed or declined by the FDLE, according to the OECS' first annual report in January 2023.
  • In its first prominent action, the OECS, working with FDLE, announced in August 2022 the arrest of 20 people previously convicted of felony sex offenses or murder who allegedly unlawfully registered to vote and voted in 2020.
  • However, several of those arrested said they did not intend to vote illegally and that no one had told them they couldn't vote, and some of the charges have been dropped by state prosecutors.
  • Voting rights advocates have criticized those arrests and others, saying it's unfair to arrest a person for voting illegally if their local elections department didn't notify them they could not vote, as it is the states' responsibility to verify whether a person is eligible, Axios' Martin Vassolo reports.

What they're saying: Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), in a letter to Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), said Congress and the committee have the responsibility to ensure the FDLE "is not using federal dollars for improper and unconstitutional ends."

  • They noted that the FDLE receives over $54 million in federal funding, which amounts to at least 14% of its annual budget.
  • "The Governor was reportedly motivated to target these individuals — mostly Black, an overwhelmingly Democratic constituency — to placate former President Trump and his false claims that widespread voter fraud led to his defeat in 2020, despite having won the State of Florida by three percentage points," their letter reads.
  • They also alleged DeSantis diverted resources from the state by dispatching the FDLE to the U.S.-Mexico border "to score political points in the runup to his campaign for president."

DeSantis' press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, claimed in a statement to Axios that Ivey "is more concerned with Governor DeSantis doing his job — protecting Floridians, upholding the law, ensuring Florida’s elections are safe and fair, securing our Southern Border from drug cartels that have brought enough fentanyl into America to kill nearly 70% of our nation’s population — than he is about doing his job in DC."

  • Jordan's office did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

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