WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, Aug. 18, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced that his administration has charged, and is in the process of arresting, 20 individuals for voter fraud. According to DeSantis, the 20 individuals are all citizens who have previously been convicted of a felony for murder or sexual assault, the two exceptions to the state’s automatic rights restoration policy. In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed an amendment that “automatically restore[s] the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation.” These individuals — whose voting rights are not automatically restored — can instead petition the governor. In a country where widespread voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, many of the election crimes that are prosecuted involve formerly incarcerated individuals who are unaware of their ineligibility because of a patchwork of felony disenfranchisement laws across the country. DeSantis pointed out that the majority of the violations took place in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. The individuals could face a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison. It is not yet known whether the charged individuals were aware of their ineligibility.
During the press conference at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, DeSantis began by boasting about Florida’s successful elections in 2020 and the legislation passed over the past two years. He promised to bring more prosecutions with the recently created Office of Election Crimes and Security. Peter Antonacci, the director of the new office, additionally stated that he was “certain” that there were illegal ballots cast in a recent election won by just a handful of votes. Antonacci offered no evidence for this claim.
“Now we have the ability, with the attorney general and the statewide prosecutor, to bring these on behalf of the state of Florida,” explained DeSantis, vowing to continue investigations and particularly highlighting his concern over voting by noncitizens and ballot harvesting. Ballot harvesting is a pejorative term for a legitimate practice of returning a completed ballot on someone else’s behalf.
The press conference comes five days before Florida’s primary election.