TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis and top Republicans in the Florida Legislature are under mounting pressure from their own party to audit the 2020 election even though former President Donald Trump easily won the state.
The Republican push for a “forensic audit” — and a hand recount of more than 11.1 million votes — could create an awkward moment for DeSantis, who said in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election that Florida has shed its reputation for electoral mishaps and was now the “model” for the nation.
The Republican Party of Lake County near Orlando last week adopted and sent a resolution to the governor, top legislators and other elected officials that demanded a full audit of the entire election. The move dovetails with a bill filed by a GOP legislator from the same county who wants the Florida Legislature to order a review.
“It’s not about margin of victory,” said state Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Howey-in-the-Hills), a MAGA-style conservative who sponsored the bill calling for an audit. “The fact is that people want total verification of the election results. They want an independent review of the votes.”
The demand for an election audit follows a push by Trump and others in the GOP to review 2020 election results in key states, including Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Since the election, Trump has held a near-obsession with the election results and has repeatedly made baseless allegations that he lost the contest to Joe Biden due to fraud.
Most recently, Texas election officials said they would review the results in several counties in the Lone Star State after Trump called on GOP Gov. Greg Abbott to conduct an audit.
None of the prior reviews have turned up evidence of significant voter fraud.
Trump, who is now a Florida resident and voted in the state last year, carried his adopted home state by nearly 372,000 votes, a near landslide in a state famed for its razor-thin elections, including the 2018 elections where both DeSantis and Rick Scott only won after a recount. Trump has not publicly called for a recount in Florida.
DeSantis has sidestepped questions about whether the election was “rigged,” as Trump has contended repeatedly. But Florida did pass a contentious new restriction on voting in the aftermath of last year’s election. And DeSantis last week called on state authorities to investigate whether Facebook somehow violated state election laws in the wake of a Wall Street Journal article detailing how the tech giant may have aided incumbent candidates.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, a Republican appointed by DeSantis, said there was no need to do a “forensic audit” in Florida because county election officials already publicly tested voting machines ahead of the election and did a review of randomly-selected precincts after the contest. Those results were forwarded to state officials.
“Florida’s election in 2020 was accurate, transparent, and conducted in compliance with Florida law,” Lee said in a statement about Sabatini’s bill. “Florida has already conducted both pre- and post-elections audits, and we are confident in the security and integrity of our 2020 election results.”
Helen Aguirre Ferré, the executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, also contended that “election integrity has been of the upmost importance to Gov. DeSantis from the get-go” and pointed out that the governor backed efforts to replace election supervisors in two South Florida counties that have been trouble spots in recent elections.
“Gov. DeSantis strives for excellence and he is working vigorously with the Legislature to further strengthen election integrity,” Aguirre Ferré added in a statement this week.
But the Lake County Republican Party placed on its website a presentation that contended, without substantial evidence, that Trump may have won Florida by an even bigger margin than was recorded.
Walter Price, chair of the Lake County Republican Executive Committee, told the Orlando Sentinel — which first reported about the resolution — that his committee’s demands were based in part on allegations made by My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, a top Trump ally who has also pressed for election reviews and has said, without evidence, that Arizona is a “hotbed” of election fraud. Lake County is a solid Republican county in central Florida that includes a portion of GOP stronghold The Villages and whose election supervisor is a former Republican legislator.
The Sentinel said that Price would not say if he believed the election was fraudulent or whether Biden’s election was legitimate. But Price, who did not respond to requests for comment from POLITICO, told the newspaper: “I don’t think that Florida had a problem, per se, or anything that was widespread. But there are other swing states where they had a lot of controversies. That’s where we think that stuff might have happened that shouldn’t have happened.”
Sabatini said there are Republicans who are concerned that people from other states — and even other counties in Florida — are voting where they shouldn’t. Florida’s online voter registration system is supposed to flag duplicate county registration. Florida, with the support of DeSantis, joined a multi-state consortium that allows the state to screen voters who may be registered in more than one state.
The pressure by Lake County Republicans follows the request for an audit from a well-known Southwest Florida businessman, Alfie Oakes, who is a GOP state committeeman. Oakes recently pledged to give a $100,000 donation to DeSantis’ re-election efforts if the governor met with him to discuss fraud in Florida’s election.
Oakes, who attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, went on The Alex Jones Show in September where he said he wants to talk to DeSantis directly about it. Oakes’ comments were first reported by Florida Politics. The Jan. 6 rally at the Capitol left five people dead.