TALLAHASSEE – Governor Ron DeSantis has appointed a veteran government “Mr. fix it” as director of the controversial new Bureau of Election Crimes and Securityan influential post as another election season approaches.
Pete Antonacci, 73, who is chief judge of Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings, previously held a string of high-profile jobs under DeSantis’ predecessor, Gov. Rick Scott. They included the Governor’s General Counsel, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, the Palm Beach County State’s Attorney, the Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District and the Executive Director of Enterprise Florida.
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During his long career in state government, Antonacci also served as senior aide to former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat.
“Peter Antonacci has dedicated his career to service to the State of Florida,” DeSantis said in a statement regarding the appointment. “I’m confident he will lead the Bureau of Election Crimes and Security with integrity and ensure Florida’s election is the most secure in the country.”
Associate Chief Justice Brad Newman will take the top spot in DOAH with the departure of Antonacci, the governor said.
DeSantis unveiled his plan for the Election Crimes Bureau last November in West Palm Beach, calling for a powerful 52-person, nearly $6 million unit ready to investigate possible voter fraud and other wrongdoing.
But the proposal was stalled by DeSantis’ Republican colleagues in the Legislature, who agreed to spend $3.7 million to add 15 Florida State Department officials to accept the hotline’s advice on possible wrongdoing in the ballot.
These would be forwarded to 10 Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators for further review. Antonacci will work from the State Department, which oversees elections in Florida.
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Ever since DeSantis first promoted the idea, Democrats and most election supervisors have questioned the need for such a unit, citing the small number of actual cases of voter fraud confirmed by election officials and officials. law enforcement investigators.
Democrats also said they fear the new security force could become a weapon used against dropout groups or voting activity in communities seen as likely to antagonize DeSantis, who is re-elected in November. and considered a probable White. Home candidate in 2024.
When DeSantis signed the legislation creating the unit into law in April, Gainesville Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson called it “another malicious attempt by the Republican majority to suppress Florida voters.”
“Even the governor has declared the 2020 election in Florida safe — yet this new election crime task force was developed to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” she said.
While DeSantis praised Florida’s electoral performance in the 2020 presidential race, he never distanced himself from discredited claims that voter fraud cost former President Trump the White House.
Trump wore Florida in 2016 and 2020.
DeSantis didn’t say much about the ongoing congressional hearings Jan. 6, which found the voter fraud allegations tied more closely to conspiracy theories than reality. But the governor lashed out at Democrats and the media last month, saying, “Why are they constantly beating this dead horse?”
Florida Election Supervisors Chairman Mark Earley, the Leon County Election Supervisor, said he worked with Antonacci during the new director’s time as Broward’s chief election officer.
“I hope he serves the people of Florida with an equal hand in ensuring the fairness and sanctity of our electoral process,” Earley said. “Peter understands the intricacies of electoral law and the need for a reserved and judicious application of the power this new office wields.”
John Kennedy is a reporter for the Florida Capital Bureau of the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport