The Governor of Florida held an official press conference to demonize people who thought they voted legally, but now his fraud upon the public is falling apart.
In 2018, Floridians made history by overwhelmingly voting to restore voting rights to people with felony convictions.
In 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis praised the state’s handling of the 2020 election (one which he still refuses to admit was lost by his idol-turned-rival), saying, “Why can’t these states be more like Florida?” in reference to Trump’s fake voter fraud chaos.
But let’s back up a few years.
In 2011, then Republican Governor Rick Scott rolled back the policy of his predecessor, Charlie Crist, who automatically restored the voting rights of many who served prison sentences.
Scott and fellow Republicans introduced draconian new rules, requiring those serving sentences for non-violent offenses to wait five years and those with violent convictions seven years before applying to have their civil rights restored.
The application process often took a decade or more.
Under his tenure, then-Governor Scott held about four clemency hearings a year, fielding requests by less than 100 people each time. He and the legislature refused to invest in the personnel necessary to review more cases, resulting in a 20,000-person backlog that kept growing.
After Floridians corrected this grave injustice by approving Amendment 4 by over 60 percent and restoring voting rights to over 1.5 million Floridians who have served their time, Republicans naturally undermined the electorate’s will through sabotage.
With the help of State Senator Jeff Brandes, a dullard who has spent the last few days engaging in a sad mea culpa over his role in undermining Amendment 4 and the awful consequences of his actions, Republicans established an intentionally complex and broken system for those who sought to have their voting rights restored.
What was instituted as a means to keep people disenfranchised can best be described as a Jim Crow-era poll tax.
Those with former felony convictions are obligated to pay all fines and fees associated with their sentence before they can cast a ballot, an unnavigable process in which residents must deal with an incompetent bureaucracy in which its impossible to calculate how much they owe, not to mention, the state is unwilling or unable to identify which residents have unpaid court charges due to unreliable records.
It would be a lot easier and cheaper just to restore voting rights to those who served their sentences, but the point here is to keep people disenfranchised.
Fast forward to the DeSantis regime, when the aspiring authoritarian staged a ridiculous media circus through a press conference in Broward County.
The Fort Lauderdale region also just so happens to maintain the biggest population of Democrats in the state of Florida, in which he announced the arrest of 20 people for voting illegally.
Despite the bloviating bluster from DeSantis’ administration and Florida’s top election officials, their case is quickly imploding, not to mention looking nothing like voter fraud and everything like a possible entrapment scandal.
The state’s case against these 20 defendants is so shoddy and has been handled so incompetently that even the Republican who sponsored the legislation undermining Amendment 4 has outright said so.
“The more that comes out on the arrests, the more I believe the individuals involved had no knowledge or intent to violate the law,” said Jeff Brandes, an outgoing State Senator from Pinellas County.
The more that comes out on the arrests the more I believe the individuals involved had no knowledge or intent to violate the law. https://t.co/u5qwUtcws0
— Jeff Brandes (@JeffreyBrandes) August 29, 2022
Who’s the fraud now, Governor DeSantis?
The sloppiness on the part of the state stems from the fact that a wide majority of those arrested, 18 out of the 20, were registered to vote in a chaotic period between 2018 and 2020 in which ineligible voters were being excluded from the rolls following the passage of Amendment 4.
The state was understaffed.
Only 20 people worked at the Secretary of State’s office with the ability to process 57 applications a day.
At the time, there was a backlog of 85,000 people wanting to register to vote.
Unable to check who exactly owed fines and fees and struggling to remove those with murder convictions and sex offenses in their records which were excluded by Amendment 4 from having their rights restored, a lot of folks who shouldn’t have been eligible to vote were never notified of that.
Almost all those arrested in DeSantis’ pitiful little faux voter fraud stunt thought they had the right to vote in 2020 because they had received voter registration cards.
NEW: Two weeks after @GovRonDeSantis announced the arrest of 20 people for voting illegally, conflicting state messages, a broken felon review system and weak evidence, is causing the state's case to fall apart. w/ @lmower3 and @romyellenbogen https://t.co/hnZWtAFzUd
— Mary Ellen Klas (@MaryEllenKlas) August 31, 2022
So what happens now?
DeSantis’ spokespeople and propagandists, paid for by our tax dollars, have been engaging in targeted harassment of Matt Dixon, a Politico reporter who has done an excellent job in reporting on the fake voter fraud story.
The law in Florida against voting while ineligible, which the defendants are charged with, only applies to those who vote “knowing he or she is not a qualified elector.”
The cases against these defendants are likely going to fall apart, and they should.
Just like DeSantis’ partisan election police, this is all politically motivated, from the very setting of the press conference in which these arrests were announced.
It’s an intimidation tactic to choose Broward County, with the largest number of Democratic voters in Florida, as the location for this circus, as DeSantis seeks to intimidate Democrats from voting. Guess what, though? Dems are on the voting warpath this Roevember.
This is just another feeble attempt to undermine our democratic process, and it’s being done so with our tax dollars by the same guy who cynically claims to be making Florida more free.
What a joke.
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member from Florida. Twitter: @tomaskenn
This is an opinion column that solely reflects the opinions of the author.
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is a reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.