ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The Florida Legislature recently passed a new law increasing rules and potential penalties for third-party organizations that register people to vote.
It comes as News 6 has learned Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Office of Election Crimes and Security, also referred to as the election police, are contacting people who have worked for these organizations.
The state said it is making sure Florida’s elections are secure, but critics call it a form of voter suppression.
Now, an Orange County woman has accused the office of trying to intimidate those who register people to vote.
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Rhyane Wagner recently got a voicemail message she said immediately caused her concern.
“Hello, this is Inspector McCormick with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. I’m trying to reach Ms. Wagner... about the Organize Florida Education Fund,” the inspector said in the voicemail shared with News 6.
Wagner said he was calling her in regard to a voter registration matter.
“I’m working a case unrelated to that organization, but I’d like to try to see if I can speak to you about if you had any kind of training practices and things like that, that you put in place for your canvassers,” McCormick said in the voicemail.
Wagner said she hadn’t worked at Organize Florida since 2018, so the message “immediately just kind of sent off red flags.”
Organize Florida was a nonprofit that described itself as a community organization dedicated to fighting for justice in marginalized communities.
The organization also prided itself on registering people to vote and encouraging people to vote with Facebook posts.
Wagner said she hasn’t worked for the organization for five years, so being contacted by an FDLE inspector raised questions for her.
“It just felt like harassment,” Wagner said.
Wagner questioned whether McCormick was actually with FDLE, because when she called him, he told her he had been to her home trying to find her.
When she asked him to verify the address, he gave the incorrect address, Wagner said.
“First of all, you showed up to my parent’s address and that was deeply alarming to me,” Wagner said. “And he indicated he got my information from the state.”
News 6 contacted FDLE and they confirmed via email McCormick is a sworn inspector in the election crime unit.
When News 6 requested copies of McCormick’s investigative reports, we were told “the public records section has our request and they don’t have an estimated time of arrival for us because they have several hundred public records requests in their queue,” according to an email from a spokesperson.
“I feel like this is happening to many other people and they don’t know what to do about it,” Wagner said.
Matletha Bennette is with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which Wagner contacted after getting the call.
“It is voter suppression through and through but just by another means,” Bennette said. “And so, the election police have stepped in and tried to intimidate these organizations from doing what they were designed to do—give people access to the ballot.”
Bennette believes legislation recently passed in Florida is also a form of voter suppression.
She points to SB 7050, which increases fines against third-party voter registration organizations to $250,000 per calendar year for certain violations.
“The Florida Department of State believes that the Office of Election Crimes and Security has been very successful thus far in building confidence in law-abiding citizens that the rule of law is enforced in Florida, which has been a priority of Governor DeSantis (of note, the recent civil fines and arrests of third party voter registrants for violating election law, subjecting more than 100 Florida voters to potential disenfranchisement). Rest assured that any person who is registering people to vote according to the law has nothing to worry about,” according to an email sent by the Florida Department of State.
DeSantis created the election police even after praising Florida’s election process in 2020.
The election police have been heavily scrutinized after arresting 20 people across the state for illegally voting.
But judges have dismissed six of the cases and five others accepted plea deals with no jail time.
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