By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Within three months of Florida’s new election fraud unit being formed, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Thursday that 20 individuals had been charged and the state was in the process of arresting them for allegedly voting illegally.
Earlier this year, the state legislature passed an election integrity bill that Gov. DeSantis signed into law in May, which among other things created a new state Office of Election Crimes and Security. The office opened July 1 and is the first of its kind in state government, Gov. DeSantis said.
The office’s new staff began investigating alleged election fraud statewide, working with the Attorney General’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“In 2020, Florida ran an efficient, transparent election that avoided the major problems we saw in other states. At the same time, the election was not perfect, which is why we continue our efforts to ensure the integrity of our elections,” Gov. DeSantis said. “Our new election crimes office has sprung into action to hold individuals accountable for voter fraud. Today’s actions send a clear signal to those who are thinking about ballot harvesting or fraudulently voting. If you commit an elections crime, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The 20 individuals charged Thursday who allegedly voted illegally had been convicted of either murder or a felony sexual offense.
Most convicted felons in Florida who’ve served their sentence, were successfully paroled, and passed their probation period can have their voting rights restored under Amendment 4. The amendment became law after Florida voters passed it in a November 2018 ballot proposition. Both state law and Amendment 4 specifically prohibit convicted murderers and sexual offenders from voting even after they’ve served their sentence, been paroled and their probation period ends.
The 20 individuals were charged with committing a third-degree felony, which carries up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
“As elected leaders, it is incumbent on us to ensure free and fair elections and instill confidence in the voting process,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody, who joined Gov. DeSantis at a press event held in Broward County on Thursday. “No voting system can stand without the backing and confidence of the people it serves, and thanks to Governor DeSantis, we are reinforcing that trust, and Florida’s elections system will serve as the standard-bearer for the rest of the nation.”
State Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor, tweeted, “Getting word that DeSantis may be taking over or interfering with the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office in the middle of an election. If true, he better have a [expletive] good reason for it. And you know he won’t.”
The individuals who allegedly committed voter fraud did so in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, “although there are others in other parts of the state,” Gov. DeSantis said. “These folks voted illegally because they’d been convicted of murder or sexual assault. They do not have the right to vote … under Florida law.”
Gov. DeSantis noted that in the last two legislative sessions, “we’ve done more on election integrity than any state in the country,” referring to prohibitions on ballot harvesting, changes to absentee ballot requirements, banning “Zuckerbucks,” referring to hundreds of millions of dollars spent by a nonprofit created by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on the 2020 election, among others.
After the new office was created, Gov. DeSantis said, “some people said, ‘there’s no voter fraud.’ Well I’m here to say that [staff in the new office] got to work … to hold people accountable who violated our election laws.
The alleged felony voters were only one class of voters that violated the law, he said. Investigations are ongoing, for example, of individuals who’ve voted in two jurisdictions, as well as “folks who are voting who are illegal aliens” who don’t have the right to vote because they aren’t U.S. citizens.
Gov. DeSantis also instructed the state Department of State to send formal notifications to all 67 county Supervisors of Elections to preserve 2020 election records until additional reviews and investigations are completed.