SAY WHAT? - Even as the Senate bitterly, implausibly debates fundamental voting rights that not long ago were almost universally deemed non-negotiable, Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking Orwell's "1984" and running with it into a despotic dystopia of his own feverish imagining with his hoped-for, first-in-the-nation creation of an Office of Election Crimes and Security to ensure "elections are conducted in accordance with the rule of law," though, in fact, they already are. The Himmler-wannabe's shiny new police force, which would be part of Florida's Department of State, would hire over 50 investigators to “detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws, with Gestapo snitches posted at unspecified “field offices" through the state to act on dubious tips from “government officials or any other person” to "facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws," which, did we mention, already occurs. Also - see Himmler - they'd report directly to him. Herr DeSantis, who once considered forming his own private militia, asked the GOP-led legislature for $6 million for the new stormtroopers in a State of the State address teeming with freedom-y bilge: Florida is "the freest state in these United States," standing as "freedom's vanguard" for "those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates" due to "a coercive biomedical apparatus" in "blind adherence to Faucian declarations," but "Florida is a free state" that "has stood strong as the rock of freedom." Fascistic, but strong.
Like many of his GOP fellow-travelers, DeSantis has long indulged his autocratic impulses, from fighting court battles against tyrannical masks/ vaccines to pushing a gonzo bill to prohibit schools from making white people feel “discomfort” to passingmultiple laws making it harder for people - oddly, mostly brown and black - to vote. In a state where over 40% of the populace vote by mail, the new laws restrict absentee ballot-drop boxes, toughen ID rules for mail-in ballots, and forbid giving water to voters in long lines to, you know, keep them free. Democracy as wingnut reality show: DeSantis even made news of his signing the laws - now facing a court challenge - a Fox News exclusive. All this, in a state he touted in 2020 as the "gold standard" of election integrity after Trump won it, crowing, "The way Florida did it, I think, inspired confidence." So will a new electoral SWAT team to fight imaginary crimes, he now argues, though of over 11 million votes cast in the last election, only 75 complaints got referred to law enforcement; they included three retired Village people arrested for zealously voting twice for Trump. Given un-cooperative reality, even the state's GOP has "reacted tepidly" to his latest scheme - "We're going to look at it" - and Dems have written A.G Garland asking the DOJ to investigate voter suppression via “harmful proposals to create new partisan bodies." Not just harmful, many note, but exceedingly dumb. "This is a solution in search of a problem," says a top prosecutor whose office has seen four referrals for election crimes over two decades and is "willing to bet a pretty penny staffers would sit around and wait for the phone to ring. That's a lot of time watching Netflix and playing Candy Crush on the taxpayer dollar.” His brutal bottom line: "This is a $6 million door prize for a QAnon pep rally."
(Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues.)