A story in Florida deserves loads more attention than it’s getting.
It’s about Ron DeSantis, the state’s Republican governor, and the arrest of 20 Floridians. The crime they stand accused of committing is a type of election fraud ― specifically, voting regardless that past criminal convictions made them ineligible.
“Today’s actions send a transparent signal to those that are fascinated by ballot harvesting or fraudulently voting,” DeSantis said at a news conference in August, touting the arrests as the primary big rating of an election integrity task force he created to great fanfare last yr. “In the event you commit an elections crime, you will probably be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The arrests, the statements and the emotions behind them aren’t especially surprising, provided that DeSantis has at all times presented himself as a tricky, “law and order” governor. And so they are prone to endear him to conservatives who think America is awash in voter fraud, normally committed for the sake of helping Democrats and frequently involving voters from minority groups.
Sure enough, a lot of the 20 arrested Floridians are Black, in line with media accounts.
However the rationale for his or her arrests hasn’t held up well to scrutiny. Over the past few weeks, several local and national publications have pieced together the stories of what a lot of these Floridians actually did and why. It looks less and fewer like episodes of nefarious election tampering and increasingly like instances of honest confusion about what a latest voter law says.
It’s the type of situation that may prompt some introspection and perhaps even an apology from some elected officials. But DeSantis hasn’t even acknowledged the arrests might need been a mistake, let alone suggested that any of those Floridians deserve an apology ― which perhaps says loads about his kind of leadership, in addition to in regards to the many conservatives who cheer it.
An Effort At Redemption – And The Confusion It’s Created
The backdrop to this drama is Florida’s history of permanently denying voting rights to convicted felons.
For years, advocates sought to finish that practice, partly by arguing that folks who paid their debt to society deserved a probability to rejoin it and partly by noting the disparate impact of disenfranchisement on Black voters. (Many laws blocking convicted felons from voting trace back to the post-Reconstruction era, when state officials were attempting to stop the recently freed slave population from voting.)
In 2018, these advocates were in a position to get a constitutional amendment allowing the restoration of voting rights onto the ballot. It passed overwhelmingly, with nearly two-thirds of Floridians voting for it. However the amendment contained two necessary exceptions: Those convicted of felony sexual crimes or murder remained unable to vote. The 20 Floridians who were arrested in August for voter fraud had been convicted of those classes of crimes, in line with charging documents.
“Clearly those were illegally forged votes,” DeSantis said at a Wednesday news conference where the arrests got here up. “I don’t think there’s any query about that.”
These Floridians say they’d no idea their crimes made them ineligible to get back their voting rights, partially since the state approved their applications and issued them latest voter registration cards. They are saying they learned of their legal jeopardy only last month, nearly two years after casting ballots, when police showed up ― in at the very least one instance, in the shape of a SWAT team banging on their door.
“We don’t think that folks ought to be prosecuted while the state has a system during which the state itself is unable to confirm voting eligibility on the front end,” Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Restorative Rights Coalition, told HuffPost.
One likely reason these Floridians got their voting cards is that the state agency in control of elections has been overwhelmed attempting to make the brand new system work. And that’s in no small part due to a law that DeSantis and his allies enacted after the constitutional amendment passed. The law requires felons to repay old court fees before they’ll get voting rights; determining who owes what has been an administrative nightmare.
“If the state was doing its job, those individuals would have been alerted they weren’t eligible and faraway from the rolls before they even had the possibility to vote,” Patrick Berry, counsel within the Brennan Center’s democracy program, told HuffPost in an email.
Even some Republicans think officials should go easy on prosecutions until the system is working higher: “I feel it’s really as much as law enforcement and state attorneys to exercise a level of grace and mercy where they consider that their intent was to not defraud,” Jeff Brandes, a GOP state senator from St. Petersburg, told the Herald.
DeSantis, in contrast, has made no such concessions.
As an alternative, he has said responsibility for screening applications lies with local authorities, not the state ― a stance the state’s own elections chief contradicted in an email. He has also blamed independent nonprofit organizations which have been helping convicted felons file their applications, saying these groups have to be more vigilant about making the law’s exceptions clear.
When asked in that Wednesday news conference in regards to the arrests, he defended them yet again, saying they sent a very important signal: “I feel this may help show people and disabuse them of perhaps any lack of clarity that they’ve about what the foundations are in Florida,” DeSantis said.
A Familiar Pattern On Voting Rights – And Politics
If the media reports and affidavits are correct and the legal system works prefer it’s presupposed to work, then the shortage of clear intent of Florida could ― and doubtless should ― spare the Florida 20 from more jail time. But that’s no sure thing.
The proof comes from Texas, a state where leaders have the identical record of fighting voting rights expansion and where a girl received a five-year prison sentence for voting illegally despite strong evidence she didn’t realize she was breaking the law.
Many advocates for voting rights are furious with DeSantis, and never simply because of what the arrests have meant for the lives of those Floridians. Additionally they worry these actions may have a chilling effect on individuals who really are eligible to get back their voting rights.
“Certain people have the law enforced against them. Others don’t.”
– Cecile Swoon, Florida League of Women Voters
“The state is prosecuting people for honest mistakes, creating more fear and intimidation and further undercutting the promise of Amendment 4,” Berry said.
Some advocates have also been noting that DeSantis didn’t make the identical fuss a couple of handful of voter fraud cases involving residents of The Villages, whose relatively affluent residents are inclined to vote Republican. (In each of those cases, residents had voted in two different states, with intent unclear.)
“You could have a situation that’s been demonstrated time and time again,” Cecile Swoon, president of Florida’s League of Women Voters, told HuffPost. “Certain people have the law enforced against them. Others don’t.”
Whether statements like which have any effect on policy or politics, after all, stays to be seen.
DeSantis is up for reelection in November, and, despite some recent polling showing a comparatively tight race, most analysts expect him to defeat Democratic nominee Charlie Crist. And that may position him well to hunt the Republican presidential nomination, perhaps as soon as 2024.
A record of arresting people for unintentional voter fraud probably won’t hurt his standing with many conservative voters. It’d even help.