Police body camera footage obtained by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald shows the arrests of Floridians with past felony convictions for voting in the 2020 presidential election while allegedly ineligible.
The videos showed arrestees reacting with genuine shock and confusion when confronted by police, who seem confused and even sympathetic at times.
It is incredibly unlikely that any of those arrested were aware that they were ineligible to vote.
In Florida, which disenfranchised felons for life, a staggering 1.5 million voting-age residents, and 23% of African-American adults could not vote due to a previous felony conviction, before voters approved a referendum restoring those rights but lawmakers threw obstacles in the way of some citizens.
Subsequently, Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a brutal assault on people who remain ineligible to vote there even after they’ve completed their sentences, probations, and paid other court-related fees.
DeSantis said the arrests of 20 people who had voted illegally in the 2020 elections were “just the first step” in his attempt to crackdown on alleged wide-scale voter fraud in the state, despite the fact that there is no evidence to suggest voter fraud is a real concern anywhere in America.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch dismissed one of the cases brought by the Office of Statewide Prosecution.
The Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and ACLU of Florida – organizations that advocated for the passage of Amendment 4, which ended permanent felony disenfranchisement for most Floridians with past convictions, and litigated in federal court to try to prevent the Florida Legislature from dramatically curtailing that amendment – issued a statement condemning the arrests.
“We are horrified by the ongoing arrests and prosecutions of Floridians with past felony convictions for what appear to be honest mistakes about their eligibility,” said the statement. “The state has created this problem by making their voting eligibility deeply confusing and refusing to provide any meaningful guidance to those looking to determine whether they can vote.”
“We forewarned the courts and the public that Florida would exploit its flawed and inadequate system for determining voter eligibility to intimidate or deny people’s right to vote. We are deeply concerned that these arrests, which are based on flimsy charges, are an ‘opening salvo,’ as Gov. Ron DeSantis said, meant to intimidate and disenfranchise eligible Floridians with past felony convictions from voting,” said the statement. “Florida is weaponizing its new, and unnecessary, Office of Election Crimes and Security against its own citizens who appear to have made honest mistakes about their voting eligibility, particularly those who are low income, Black, and brown.”
“The recent arrests raise serious questions about the state’s many representations to federal courts downplaying the risk of prosecution for citizens confused about their eligibility,” said the statement. “It is also highly unlikely that the Office of Statewide Prosecution has the authority to prosecute these individuals as it has been doing; indeed, a Circuit Court judge has already dismissed one case on grounds that the Office of Statewide Prosecution lacks this authority. In the meantime, we will do everything we can to ensure every eligible voter, both in Florida and nationally, has access to the ballot.”
“In August 2022, our organizations released a resource for legal and advocacy groups to help Floridians with past felony convictions determine their eligibility to vote. This was intended to fill a void left by the state,” said the statement.
Voter in the state with the highest rate of felon disenfranchisement overturned the longstanding practice, but as Florida residents with felony convictions are now beginning to register to vote
Florida voters passed Amendment 4, giving 1.5 million citizens with felony convictions in the state the right to vote, except those convicted of murder and felony sex crimes.
“These arrests and prosecutions – which threaten our democracy – must stop. We will continue to consider measures to help ensure that Florida stops threatening the liberty of its own citizens.”
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which led the 2018 effort to allow Floridians with felony convictions to vote, is also urging people to sign a petition for state and local prosecutors to “immediately stop arrests” of people with felonies on their records for voting.
“What we see with these videos is a human face on a broken system,” said Neil Volz, the organization’s deputy director.
DeSantis is considering a run for president in 2024, and gaining more popularity among those identified with the MAGA movement than 2020 election loser Donald Trump, according to various Republican sources and independent polling.