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Head of DeSantis-backed election police force in Florida dies

<i>Thomas Cordy/Palm Beach Post/Zuma Press</i><br/>Pete Antonacci
Thomas Cordy/Palm Beach Post/Zuma Press
Pete Antonacci

By Steve Contorno, CNN

Pete Antonacci, the head of Florida’s new election crimes office, died Friday, the office of the governor confirmed. He was 74 years old.

In a statement, Gov. Ron DeSantis called Antonacci a “dedicated, tenacious, and assiduous public servant, lawyer, and respected professional — a friend to all in the State of Florida.”

“His fighting passion will be missed, and his legacy will persist in the hearts and minds of many,” the GOP governor said.

DeSantis’ office did not provide a cause of death.

David Fierro, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, told CNN that Antonacci had a medical episode during a meeting with the agency and others Friday at the state Capitol in Tallahassee. The state Capitol Police responded to the incident.

Over a lengthy and unparalleled career in government, Antonacci wore many hats, including deputy attorney general and statewide prosecutor, and he was appointed to serve on various boards and commissions. Several governors turned to Antonacci to fill tough roles or to fix messes. When the Broward elections supervisor resigned shortly after DeSantis took office in 2019, the governor tapped Antonacci to fill the vacancy.

More recently, DeSantis appointed Antonacci to serve as director of the Office of Election Crimes and Security, a newly created position tasked with investigating Florida’s voting system. Democrats and voting rights groups cautioned that the new office would intimidate voters and called it an unnecessary response to unfounded concerns about voter fraud. Antonacci’s appointment, however, put some critics at ease.

The office sparked blowback last month when DeSantis and Antonacci announced the arrest of 20 ex-felons for voting illegally in the 2020 election. Lawyers for several of the individuals arrested said the state or local election offices told their clients they were eligible to cast a ballot, and questions were raised as to whether the state could prove that the people arrested intended to commit voter fraud, which is a requirement under the law.

Antonacci also caused a stir when he sent a letter to local election supervisors absolving them of any blame for not preventing those people from voting. DeSantis had suggested the supervisors could be at fault for not properly maintaining their voter rolls.

An outpouring of condolences for Antonacci were posted on social media from many of the public officials he worked for or alongside over his four decades in government. Republican Sen. Rick Scott, who named Antonacci his general counsel while governor, wrote on Twitter, “Pete leaves behind a remarkable legacy of service to Florida & I was honored to call him a friend.”

Dave Aronberg, the Palm Beach County state attorney and a Democrat, tweeted, “I never knew he was a Republican working for a Democratic AG, because it didn’t matter. Pete always put public service and the rule of law ahead of partisanship.”

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