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Some Republicans would have you believe that voter fraud looks like a nefarious group of computer programmers rigging election machines. Others, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, say that the fraudsters are convicted felons who have done their time, completed parole, and registered to vote at the suggestion of Florida Department of Motor Vehicles employees.
On August 18, Florida police officers acting at DeSantis’ behest arrested 20 such people, 12 of whom were registered Democrats and at least 13 of whom were Black, for voter fraud, according to a new report from the Tampa Bay Times. Despite apparently not knowing it, those arrested had violated a provision of the state’s voting laws that outlawed them from participating in democracy.
In 2018, Florida restored voting rights to people who had been convicted of felonies—except for registered sex offenders and people convicted of murder. As the Times notes, Florida voter registration forms require felons to swear that their rights have been restored, but they don’t clarify that people with murder or sex crime convictions are exempt from automatic voting rights restoration.
Stunning new police bodycam video obtained by the Times shows police officers, who seem sympathetic to the accused, arresting people who say they were unaware that there were any restrictions on their right to vote.
“Why would you let me vote if I wasn’t able to vote?” one man who was a registered sex offender said as he sat handcuffed in the back of a police car.
“I’m not sure, buddy,” the officer said.
Another man told officers that someone at the “driver’s license place” told him, “Well, just fill out this form, and if they let you vote, then you can. If they don’t, then you can’t.”
“Then there’s your defense,” an officer said. “That sounds like a loophole to me.”
It’s unclear whether those arrested will pass the bar, outlined in state law, for “willfully” committing voter fraud. If convicted, they could face up to five years in prison.
DeSantis originally announced the arrests at an August press conference touting the state’s new Office of Election Crimes and Security. But the new videos show that this heavy-handed ploy for internet points—like his Martha’s Vineyard migrant stunt—had devastating effects on real people’s lives.