'That’s a political strategy': Videos reveal shock, confusion among arrestees in voting arrests
In August 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis went out of his way to draw attention to a new division of Florida’s state government: the Office of Election Crimes and Security. The far-right Republican governor held a news conference on August 18 to brag about a series of arrests for alleged voter fraud that had occurred that day.
Newly obtained video of some of the arrests, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ Lawrence Mower, shows the “confusion” that those who were arrested experienced — as they had been under the impression that they were allowed to legally vote in Florida.
In an article published by the Times on October 18, Mower explains, “Body-worn camera footage recorded by local police captured the confusion and outrage of Hillsborough County residents who found themselves in handcuffs for casting a ballot following investigations by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new Office of Election Crimes and Security. The August 18 arrests — conducted hours before DeSantis called a news conference to tout his crackdown on alleged voter fraud — were carried out by state police officers accompanied by local law enforcement.”
Mower adds that “the never-before-seen footage” obtained by the Times/Herald “offers a personal glimpse of the effects of DeSantis’ efforts to root out perceived voter fraud.” Twenty Florida residents who were arrested that day, according to Mower, “are facing up to five years in prison after being accused by DeSantis and state police of both registering, and voting, illegally.”
READ MORE: Florida law banning felons from casting ballots aims 'to deny and deter voting': WaPo Editorial Board
“They are accused of violating a state law that doesn’t allow people convicted of murder or felony sex offenses to automatically be able to vote after they complete their sentence,” Mower explains. “A 2018 state constitutional amendment that restored the right to vote to many felons excluded this group. But, as the videos further support, the amendment and subsequent actions by state lawmakers caused mass confusion about who was eligible, and the state’s voter registration forms offer no clarity. They only require a potential voter to swear, under penalty of perjury, that they’re not a felon, or if they are, that their rights have been restored. The forms do not clarify that those with murder convictions don’t get automatic restoration of their rights.”
Some of the Floridians being arrested in the footage look genuinely shocked, saying they believed they were legally allowed to register to vote in that state.
According to Mower, Tampa-based attorney Mark Rankin, who is representing one of the defendants, Romona Oliver, “said he thinks DeSantis’ election security force chose these 20 in particular because the public would not have sympathy for people who were convicted of murder or sexual offenses.”
During his August 18 news conference, DeSantis pointed out the criminal records of the arrestees — and Rankin told the Times, “That’s not an accident. That’s a political strategy.”
Mower notes that 12 of the people arrested on August 18 were registered as Democrats, and “at least 13” of them were Black.
One of the people who was arrested, Nathan Hart, told police that he was encouraged to register to vote “at the driver’s license place” — where he told an employee, “‘I’m a convicted felon, I’m pretty sure I can’t.” But the employee indicated that it was OK for him to register to vote if he was no longer on probation.”
READ MORE: Republican county commissioner in upstate NY arrested for alleged 'voter fraud' scheme
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