Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the first indictment attributed to the newly formed election police force he helped create in the state. But in the weeks since, complicated information has emerged that could make it harder for states to get convictions, supporters and at least one prominent Republican official said.
Voting rights advocates condemn what they describe as a confusing process that makes it difficult to determine whether either a suspect or election officials are eligible to vote.
DeSantis said at a news conference in August that all 20 people, all of whom were previously jailed for murder or felony sex crime convictions, have been banned from voting in Florida, making them illegal in the 2020 election. Under Florida law, under constitutional amendments enacted in 2018 via a ballot initiative, many felons can regain their voting rights, but many felons can regain their voting rights. Those convicted of the most violent crimes such as rape cannot.
“This is just the opening salvo,” said DeSantis, who is widely believed to be considering a 2024 presidential run, at a press conference. “Before suggesting this [new office] There have been instances where something like this seems to be going through the cracks. “
Advocates argue that those arrested had no idea they were breaking the law, and in many cases government officials sent them voter registration materials. to combat accusations. They also questioned whether the new police force would be the best way to fix the broken system, and blamed the lack of a central database to help authorities avoid unnecessary criminal charges.
“Obviously no one notified them that they were not eligible to vote. They sent them voter registration cards. We’ve cleared them,” Republican Senator Jeff Brandes said in an interview, an architect about another 2019 law that made it more difficult for former felons to vote.
“That makes it incredibly difficult to prove intent,” added Brandes. “State attorneys will have a very hard time proving that this was done intentionally,” he said. Brandes predicted that the charges would eventually be dropped.
Under Florida law, in order to convict of voter fraud, the state must prove that they intentionally and knowingly registered to vote or voted when they knew they were not to vote. Have to.
“I don’t know how you proved your intent to break the law for someone who thought they were eligible to vote because they received a state-sanctioned voter registration card,” said the Florida Restoration Coalition. said Neil Voltz, deputy director of the .This has helped many arrested people find lawyers and pay bail.
Incidents of voter fraud are incredibly rare in the United States, and past and current investigations by law enforcement agencies across the country find more than a handful of the millions of ballots cast in America. I am struggling with
New police and confusing system
In April, DeSantis signed a bill formally creating a police force to investigate voter fraud and other electoral crimes. The 2020 election is a top priority for the Republican Party amid ongoing false claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Then, in August, DeSantis announced the first arrests by his unit, revealing at a press conference that the electoral crimes and security services would indict 20 people previously convicted of murder or felony sex crimes. Florida’s 2018 amendment would permanently ban voting for felonies, except for those convicted of murder or sex crimes. But that recovery also excluded convicted criminals who had not completed “all the conditions” of their sentencing. We enacted laws that included payment as a condition.
Brandes and Volz said the ensuing years created a labyrinth of records as to who was eligible to vote in the state. Voting rights have been restored. They and other voting rights advocates point out that states have never created a central database that could be used to efficiently cross-check and determine whether people who have passed through the criminal justice system are eligible to vote. increase.
Out of 18 individual directors Many said they received voter registration cards from county elections officials’ offices and believed they were eligible to vote. According to court documents reviewed by NBC News and reports such as the Miami Herald,
In a lengthy email, a spokesman for the Florida State Department, of which the Office of Election Crime and Security is part, said: The burden of deciding whether a felon was eligible to vote fell to the individual.
Spokesman Mark Ard described the complex and often time-consuming process that various state agencies check against each other in determining the eligibility of felon voters, explaining that individuals simply returned their registration materials. allegedly violated the law. They were often sent to individuals by election officials.
“Felons whose rights were not reinstated filed voter registration applications (which is itself a felony) and then voted,” Ard said.
Ard also said county election officials (among the officials who sent such materials) have the authority to take action to remove voters from statewide voter registration systems.
“There is nothing prohibiting election officials from acting independently of the Office of Elections to collect this information,” he said.
“These individuals lied when registering to vote. I’m sure we’ll find out why,” Ard said. A spokeswoman for DeSantis did not respond to her NBC News questions about the matter.
But Election Crime Commission Director Peter Antonacci sent a letter to county election officials in the state saying they were doing nothing wrong, Politico reported this week. NBC News has not received the letter.
Brandes and Volz say the state is to blame, even though the materials were sent by local election officials.
“At the end of the day, states are responsible for determining the voter eligibility of those on their state voter rolls,” Volz said. He also said, “I would be surprised if the charges continued.”
Voltz, whose group works with many of the indicted individuals, said no one from the county elections commissioner’s office or the state notified the arrested individuals that they were ineligible to vote. rice field.
“There is no evidence that it happened,” he said.
Volz and Brandes said that going forward, the Florida Department of State will properly maintain a database of Florida residents who have been convicted of murder or felony sex crimes, as well as convicts who still owe money for court costs. and the voter rolls should be updated accordingly.
“County election officials do not have the resources or access to multiple databases to make such decisions,” said Brandes.