The number of positions in Florida’s new election-crimes unit would increase from 15 to 27, under a budget proposal that Secretary of State Cord Byrd outlined Wednesday. In his budget request for the legislative session that will start March 7, Byrd proposed $3.15 million for the Office of Election Crimes and Security, which was created last year and is staffed by five people. Its initial director, Pete Antonacci, died in September. “We are looking for a new director,” Byrd said during an appearance before the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Committee. Byrd said one of his “top priorities” is to get the office fully staffed. The office received $1.2 million for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. Byrd also defended the work of the office. “Even in the (election) off-season, people are continuing to register to vote,” Byrd said. “So, (voter) list maintenance is very important. We continue to get reports from our sister states. And that’s how we’re continuing to find people convicted of voter fraud, like some of the double voters. Their (staff members’) work is important now, because they’re going to ensure that the voter rolls are as pristine as possible as we go into the election. If we’re waiting for the election cycle, it’s almost too late at that point.” The office has drawn opposition from Democrats, who have expressed concerns that it is an attempt to intimidate minority voters. Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, asked Byrd about the “one credible vote that a person doesn’t take because of fear of being arrested and taken away from his or her family.” Byrd replied that steps are taken to ensure “voters in Florida are not disenfranchised.”

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