Florida’s new election laws will go on display Tuesday as voters decide who they believe should challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis — among other candidates in varying local and federal races — during the Democratic primary election.

What You Need To Know

  • Tuesday is primary election day in Florida

  • New Florida laws require supervised ballot drop boxes

  • They also order local supervisors of elections to conduct annual audits of voter registration rolls

  • The Florida Department of State is also required to draft a plan to “strengthen ID requirements” for mail-in ballots by 2023

The new laws, championed by DeSantis and Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature, bring along a slew of changes, which, they say, are intended to improve “election integrity” across Florida’s 67 counties. 

Among other changes, the new policies require supervised ballot drop boxes and prohibit anyone from engaging with voters while they are line to cast a ballot.

The new laws — created under Senate Bill 524 — also established an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State. DeSantis on Thursday announced charges against 20 individuals who allegedly voted illegally in the 2020 election, marking the unit's first known arrests since its July 1 inception. 

DeSantis said those arrested voted illegally in Broward, Miami-Dade and other parts of the state.

New state laws also increase penalties for ballot harvesting and other election-related crimes.

“This is a third-degree felony in the State of Florida,” DeSantis said after announcing the alleged voting violations, later explaining that the charges are punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison. 

In all, the Department of State collected 262 complaints of election fraud in 2020 and referred 75 to law enforcement officials, according to the department. Data show that during that election, more than 11 million Floridians voted. 

The proposal of new election laws, though, raised eye brows across Florida’s political community, particularly after DeSantis touted Florida’s handling of the 2020 election as the “smoothest and most successful” in the nation. 

Among those who opposed the changes: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Congressman Charlie Crist. The two Democratic are vying for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination during Tuesday’s primary election, which will allow them a chance to compete against DeSantis in November.

Fried, a lawyer and University of Florida graduate, called news of the arrest a “stunt.” 

Speaking to Spectrum News, she said that she believed DeSantis is seeking to“intimidate voters,” particularly those who may be unsure of their voter status after the state’s confusing back and forth over Amendment 4 — a voter-approved amendment intended to restore the voting rights of convicted felons after they completed the terms of their sentence. 

The Miami Herald interviewed several of those arrested by the unit last week and at least five of them told the newspaper they believed they were allowed to vote, and wouldn’t have if they knew they were ineligible. 

“Everybody wants elections to be secure, but Ron DeSantis — who has never refuted Donald Trump's 'Big Lie' — is the last person we can trust with election police,” Fried said after the arrests were announced. "Back to local authorities, that's who needs to handle fraud, not Ron.”

News of the arrests also angered Crist. Like Fried, he described the arrests as “theatrics” and said the arrests were intended to intimidate voters. He lambasted DeSantis and the Legislature for the voter law changes. 

“He’ll go to any length to get people not to vote,” Crist told Spectrum News at a campaign event in Volusia County. "... The guy doesn’t have forgiveness in his heart and it's a shame he’s our governor.”

DeSantis, meanwhile, argues that the arrests themselves are proof enough of the need for tighter election laws and a specialized police unit. 

Authorities, DeSantis claims, often lack the resources to adequately investigate claims of election fraud. He argues the new measures will increase transparency and boost voter confidence. 

“We’ve done more on election integrity than any state in the country,” DeSantis said Thursday while announcing the arrests. 

The new law also orders local supervisors of elections to conduct annual audits of voter registration rolls, and requires the Florida Department of State to draft a plan to “strengthen ID requirements” for mail in ballots by 2023.