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Election integrity or controlled outcome and the death of democracy?


In the interim between presidential elections, election fraud rhetoric has given way to the creation of apparatuses that could impede free and fair elections under the Orwellian guise of protecting them. Florida's Office of Election Crimes and Security stands as one of the most troubling examples.

In 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 524 into law, establishing the OECS under the Florida Secretary of State’s office. The OECS is empowered to conduct investigations and open independent inquiries into alleged voting irregularities. Its investigators are civilians. However, they receive support from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which has been given additional funding to aid OECS investigations.

The director of the OECS is a position that reports directly to the Secretary of State. It's crucial to understand that a 1998 constitutional amendment transformed the Florida Secretary of State from an elected role to one appointed by the governor, beginning in 2002. Like DeSantis' troubling reinstitution of the long-defunct Florida State Guard, this raises concerns about a potential alignment between an elected, partisan governor and what is ostensibly an FDLE-supported crime-fighting office that, most worryingly, appears to lack clear boundaries in its authority.

Over the past two to three years, many of Gov. DeSantis’ endeavors have seemed geared toward bolstering the sort of MAGA conservative bonafides that play well in Republican presidential primary politics. Much of it seemed to be theater aimed at grabbing headlines and creating interview talking points more than practical policy—think the war against Disney, the takeover of New College, Don’t Say Gay, etc. 

As politicians like DeSantis are quickly realizing, however, the rise of extremist views among both the public and the officials it elects for representation means that many lawmakers struggle to differentiate between political theatrics and genuine policy-making efforts. The OECS’ role in this context is unclear. Was it merely a talking point for the governor or an ace in the hole should he have been nominated? 

That no longer matters, as DeSantis’ campaign was over almost as soon as it began, even if he was painfully slow to get the message. That said, the party that rules this state is in lockstep behind a nominee who actively sought to overturn the results of the last presidential election, pressuring election officials in contested states to find him the votes and members of Congress to impede the certification of those results, resulting in an attempted insurrection in our nation’s capitol on January 6, 2021.

Even more troubling is the way Donald J. Trump has pivoted from saying, "I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness, and mayhem ... the demonstrators who infiltrated the capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy.  To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay," in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection to, "free the J6 prisoners" and promising to pardon them upon his reelection in recent campaign speeches. 

Florida is only one of many Republican-led states that have seen stop-the-steal extremists elected to crucial election-related positions. Locally, we are still waiting for DeSantis’ long overdue decision as to whether he will appoint a highly-qualified election official to our vacant Supervisor of Elections post or a dimwitted extremist with zero qualifications.  Florida is likewise one of many Republican states that have enacted legislation that seeks to reduce voting access in ways that are blatantly designed to disproportionately favor their party by targeting the manner in which the opposition more often votes or the demographics that have historically supported them. The OECS merely puts more teeth behind those efforts with little oversight as to who the sharpest ones might be sunken into.

In February, Donald Trump essentially installed his daughter-in-law, former Fox News contributor Lara Trump, as co-chair of the RNC, despite her having no relevant experience whatsoever. The purge that followed was described as a “bloodbath,” and some of those who took the invitation to reapply for their mostly state-level positions have alleged that a candidate’s opinion as to whether the correct victor was declared in 2020 was posed as something of a litmus test.  Lara Trump even went so far as to suggest the RNC hire a stop-the-steal zealot who trafficked in QAnon conspiracies to head its "legal ballot harvesting division." However, that proved a bridge too far for even this newTrumpified RNC to sign off on, but likely only because of optics rather than principle, given how many individuals of similar ilk have been embraced in Trump's new GOP. 

The way the polls are currently looking, few would be terribly surprised if Trump were able to pull off a legitimate victory in November. However, if more people start taking a closer look at these troubling trends as we get closer to Election Day and he is not able to, fewer people should be surprised if he once again refuses to accept defeat. The only difference would seem to be that this time, he will have control of enough institutions and the support of enough elected extremists from Congress to local SOE offices to pose a realistic threat to our democratic process. 

The power struggle between the political and administrative arms of government has always been inherent to even the most well-intentioned democracies. But once the line between the two becomes so blurred that it is nearly indistinguishable (think the Manatee County Commission and its puppet administration), it is fair to question whether what we mean when we say the word democracy is not already a thing of the past.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here. 


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  • Islandman

    Let me tell you about a, “threat to our democracy,”

    First, establish 2 more Senatorial seats representing Washington DC.

    Almost certainly these will be held by Democrats.

    Now expand the Supreme Court with 6 Progressive Judges.

    Now you can get rid of that “pesky” Electoral College, so that the Coastal elites can now overwhelm those “deplorables”! With a flood of votes.

    Now you have the executive, legislative, and judicial branches safely in the tow.

    Finally the Democrats will have what they really want, not to govern, but to CONTROL!

    That is the end of “DEMOCRACY!”

    Sunday, March 31 Report this

  • David Daniels

    Unfortunately, it is uninformed and non-critical thinking voters (see previous comment) that are the real threat to democracy. Without them, the Governor, Presidential candidate, and current BoCC would not be possible.

    Sunday, March 31 Report this

  • Rlasunto

    The only fraud in the 2020 Florida election was committed in the Villages by 4 Republicans.

    Look at the gerrymandering done all around the country by Republicans the Republican courts will not supply the remedy for this fraud. Once the Republiklans got in power they subverted the justice system. Now millions of people are disenfranchised from a fair election.

    Florida voters are among the first to be duped by the Republican cult.

    Desantis has also eliminated fairly elected officials only because he doesn’t like Democrats .

    Sunday, March 31 Report this

  • klmsinc

    Gee, do you suppose it is time to implement morals on all sides of this argument? While conservative or liberal or ethnicity or gender are making accusations just ask yourself am I telling the absolute truth? am I repeating heresay? WOW! That might really make a change if a person didn't lie and expect others to tell the truth!!!!

    Don't blame it on the other guy.

    Sunday, March 31 Report this

  • Cat L

    As a person who watched Q-anon come into being, I am angry at how far it's gone, and what it's changed into. YEARS before any politician was associated with "Q" it was spreading across the metaphysical community. (somewhere around 2012-2013...) I've watched the "legend of Q" change with each group that carried it. Funny how whomever is using this urban legend for their own marketing strategy changes the legend to suit their purposes. It's gross.

    Years ago, I watched a whole bunch of metaphysical practitioners attend the same conference in Santa Fe and afterwards they coordinated their marketing around Q, where no Q had been before. They started groups, had events started asking for donations for this and that. There was even a cryptocurrency...

    I've seen a DISTURBING level of politicians following this junk.

    It is FAKE!!!!!!!

    And now it's easy access for coordinated disinformation campaigns, for ANY nation engaging in such activities. And who might that be?

    According to both the FBI and the CIA, as well as professionals in the field of intelligence (civilian AND military) it is.... ALL OF THEM!


    Get smarter.

    Now. Especially you alleged "patriots" out there.

    Tuesday, April 2 Report this