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Politico's April 16, 2022 The One Way History Shows Trump’s Personality Cult Will End is an interview with historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Wikipedia says:

She is a scholar on fascism and authoritarian leaders.

In the interview Ben-Ghiat expresses views that authoritarianism has to a large extent supplanted democratic principles in certain political leaders of the US Republican party. For example:

Kruse: Is it fair to see DeSantis as a very capable, committed student, whereas Trump is more of an instinctual autocrat?

Ben-Ghiat: There are limits to the comparison because Trump truly is an autocratic individual. He was as a businessman and he has surrounded himself with people from [Paul] Manafort and [Roger] Stone to [Steve] Bannon who have decades of experience helping and working for dictators. They’re on a crusade to ruin democracy. And DeSantis had a very different career path. And so what’s notable about him is he has sensed, like all smart politicians, what you need to get ahead in today’s America, in today’s GOP, what kind of leader you need to seem to be, what policies, what talking points, [such as] election fraud. What you need to do is turn citizens against each other, which he does with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. His election security office has a hotline where you can call and tip off your fellow Floridians doing bad things. These are in themselves all things that match up with autocratic policies. Yes, he’s a very capable student of what is going to have success in today’s GOP and with today’s electorate.

and later:

Also, the midterms are so close. I do believe if [Republicans] capture Congress after the midterms, you always have to assume the worst with people who have been very open about wanting to wreck democracy. And so that’s why they float these scary things, like making Trump speaker of the House. You have to realize that these people have left democracy, and nothing is off the table. And that’s why to go back to DeSantis, it’s very ominous that he established this office of election security. It’s very bad because it has its own prosecutors, and it makes things that used to be a misdemeanor a felony. If you look at the details of it, it’s not only an intimidation machine. It has some prosecutorial powers, and it has informing mechanisms, the tip line, and the whole idea of election integrity as this buzzword, which really means how are we going to start making elections come out the way we need to, is a very anti-democratic thing.

Question: Prosecutorial powers of Florida's office of election security; Can it try individuals, or subpoena/coerce testimony? Can it elicit punishments?

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Prosecutorial powers of Florida's office of election security; Can it try individuals, or subpoena/coerce testimony? Can it elicit punishments?

There is nothing in Florida SB 524 allowing the Office of Election Crimes and Security to "try individuals, or subpoena/coerce testimony" or to "elicit punishments".

[Selected text from SB 524 is shown below. To be sure, the bill does a lot related to election law, but my comments and excerpts are limited to the subjects in the question.]

The bill creates an office to receive tips, refer investigations to "special officers", and produce reports for the governor. It also requires the governor to appoint the officers who will conduct investigations. However, these officers are drawn from existing Florida Department of Law Enforcement members whose duties are not limited to election law violations. There is nothing to suggest that alleged violations of election law would proceed in any manner different from alleged violations of other laws.


From the text of Florida SB 524, in part,

Preamble,

An act relating to election administration;

creating s. 97.022, F.S.; creating the Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State; specifying the duties and structure of the office; providing for construction; requiring the department to annually report to the Governor and Legislature regarding the office’s activities; specifying requirements for such report;

amending s. 102.091, F.S.; requiring the Governor, in consultation with the executive director of the Department of Law Enforcement, to appoint special officers to investigate election law violations; specifying requirements for such special officers; providing construction;


New section,

97.022 Office of Election Crimes and Security; creation; purpose and duties.—

(1) The Office of Election Crimes and Security is created within the Department of State. The purpose of the office is to aid the Secretary of State in completion of his or her duties under s. 97.012(12) and (15) by:

(a) Receiving and reviewing notices and reports generated by government officials or any other person regarding alleged occurrences of election law violations or election irregularities in this state.

(b) Initiating independent inquiries and conducting preliminary investigations into allegations of election law violations or election irregularities in this state.

(2) The office may review complaints and conduct preliminary investigations into alleged violations of the Florida Election Code or any rule adopted pursuant thereto and any election irregularities.

(3) The secretary shall appoint a director of the office.

(4) The office shall be based in Tallahassee and shall employ nonsworn investigators to conduct any investigations. The positions and resources necessary for the office to accomplish its duties shall be established through and subject to the legislative appropriations process.

(5) The office shall oversee the department’s voter fraud hotline.

(6) This section does not limit the jurisdiction of any other office or agency of the state empowered by law to investigate, act upon, or dispose of alleged election law violations.

(7) [Reporting requirements not shown.]


Original text in FS 102.091 was amended to add (2),

102.091 Duty of sheriff to watch for violations; appointment of special officers.—

(1) The sheriff shall exercise strict vigilance in the detection of any violations of the election laws and in apprehending the violators.

The principal additional text in FS 102.091 (2) concerning the appointment of "special officers" is,

A special officer must be a sworn special agent employed by the Department of Law Enforcement. At least one special officer must be designated in each operational region of the Department of Law Enforcement to serve as a dedicated investigator of alleged violations of the election laws. Appointment as a special officer does not preclude a sworn special agent from conducting other investigations of alleged violations of law, provided that such other investigations do not hinder or interfere with the individual’s ability to investigate alleged violations of the election laws.

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  • Hmm..., so it seems that "...this office of election security. It’s very bad because it has its own prosecutors..." doesn't stand up to scrutiny? While the organization collects tips and other information and can initiate investigations by existing law enforcement, it does not actually prosecute?
    – uhoh
    Apr 17 at 20:15
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    All prosecutions of criminal cases, involving a single judicial district, are done by District Attorneys. There are 20 judicial districts in Florida. Cases must be heard within the district where the crime was committed. Also note: 97.022 (6) This section does not limit the jurisdiction of any other office or agency of the state empowered by law to investigate, act upon, or dispose of alleged election law violations. The Office of Election Crimes and Security need not be involved at all, but they still have to report it.
    – Rick Smith
    Apr 17 at 21:37
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    Got it. My own takeaway will then be that the Office of Election Crimes and Security does not have prosecutors or prosecutorial power itself, and that Ben-Ghiat at a minimum misspoke during the interview.
    – uhoh
    Apr 17 at 21:41
  • I don't think this changes the answer at this time, but I'll add this update: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signs bill creating election police force and DeSantis Signs Law To Establish Election Fraud Unit In Florida
    – uhoh
    Apr 26 at 21:31

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