Florida Senate poised to vote on elections changes

The Florida Senate on Thursday teed up a controversial elections proposal that would create a state "Office of Election Crimes and Security" – a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis – and ban elections officials from accepting money from third-party organizations to fund voting-related expenses. 

An amendment adopted Thursday by the Senate also would change the name of drop boxes, where voters can drop off completed mail-in ballots, to "secure ballot intake stations." 

In addition, the measure (SB 524) would require the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to provide a monthly report to state elections officials with information about non-U.S. citizens who have received or renewed driver’s licenses or identification cards. 

The measure also would increase sanctions for certain election-related crimes. Senate Democrats on Thursday pressed bill sponsor Travis Hutson about a provision that could allow people to submit election-fraud complaints anonymously. Hutson, R-St. Augustine, said that people would have to have "direct knowledge" or "personal knowledge" of wrongdoing for investigators to probe the complaints. 

Democrats’ futilely tried to add to the bill sanctions for people who file frivolous complaints. Critics of the bill maintain that cases of election fraud are rare and state attorneys already have the ability to prosecute wrongdoing. 

When asked how many cases of election fraud have occurred in Florida, Hutson cited a handful of instances from around the state over the past few years. But he said the proposed elections security office would be better able to keep track of problems. 

"We will be able to get more information, and that’s what we’re trying to do here," Hutson said. The Senate could vote on the bill as soon as Friday. A similar bill (HB 7061) is pending in the House.

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