As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis runs for president looks to the final year of his first term in office, he is, again, turning to the nonexistent notion of widespread voter fraud to bolster his appeal with the Republican base.
His latest proposal is the creation of something called the Office of Election Crime and Security. As described in DeSantis’ budget (h/t CNN’s Steve Contorno), that proposed office looks like this:
“$5.7 million to create and staff an Office of Election Crimes and Security that will investigate election crimes and fraud. The office will contain 52 staff members, including 20 sworn law enforcement officers and 25 non-sworn investigators. The office will review and investigate election crimes and irregularities and make referrals for further legal action directly to a Statewide Prosecutor.”
No other state in the country has such an office – or investigative force.
That move comes just months after DeSantis signed one of the most restrictive voting bills in the country into law. As CNN noted at the time, the legislation “will create restrictions such as adding new ID requirements for voting by mail, limiting who can return a completed mail-in ballot, prohibiting the use of nonprofit and private funds to conduct elections, expanding partisan observation power during ballot tabulation and creating additional restrictions for drop box use.”
Despite that law, DeSantis has come under pressure from acolytes of former President Donald Trump to conduct a recount of Florida’s ballots – despite the fact that the former President won the state by almost 400,000 votes. “It’s not about margin of victory,” state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Trump protege who sponsored legislation calling for an audit of the vote, told Politico. “The fact is that people want total verification of the election results. They want an independent review of the votes.”
DeSantis demurred. And his appointed secretary of state, a Republican, noted that “Florida has already conducted both pre- and post-elections audits, and we are confident in the security and integrity of our 2020 election results.”
But, calls for a recount – or some sort of a so-called forensic audit – have continued. And that matters for DeSantis, who is widely seen as positioning himself to run for president in 2024 if Trump takes a pass on the race (or maybe even if Trump runs).
DeSantis badly wants to court the Trump base – and to do that, you have to be seen as cracking down on alleged election fraud. (DeSantis himself has been cagey about agreeing with Trump’s contention that the 2020 election was stolen, a claim that has zero basis in fact.)
In fact, there is no evidence that any major election in the country has been victimized by the sort of fraud that Trump is alleging and that DeSantis wants to form a force to combat.
Study after study make this fact plain.
In one, Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt tracked US elections from 2000 to 2014 in search of voter fraud, or, as he put it, “specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls.”
How many examples did he find? Exactly 31 – out of more than 1 billion instances. 31! (That’s an infinitesimally small number.) That’s not to say that each of those 31 instances of attempted voter fraud isn’t worth an investigation. We don’t want any voter fraud. But it is to say that 31 instances out of more than 1 billion is nothing anywhere close to widespread voter fraud.
The Levitt study is far from the only one to draw such a conclusion. A five-year study on voter fraud commissioned by then-President George W. Bush – a Republican – reached a similar conclusion as Levitt’s. The New York Times wrote at the time: “The Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections.”
In the 2016 election, in which more than 135 million votes were cast, there were a total of four documented cases of voter fraud, according to The Washington Post’s Philip Bump. (There are lots more studies that show a similar thing.)
(Sidebar: Yes, there are times in which people impersonate someone else at the ballot box intentionally. But these are few and far between. And, yes, there are times when the same person votes – or tries to vote – twice. But that is almost always unintentional.)
The reality is that DeSantis’ “Office of Election Crimes and Security” is a solution in search of a problem. And one that – whether intentional or not – could well have a chilling effect on people who have every right to cast a vote and have their voices heard.