DeSantis’ voter fraud arrests begin to fizzle out as unjustified

State prosecutors in Florida have dropped charges against one of the 20 people arrested on the orders of Gov. Ron DeSantis for voting illegally in 2020.

In court documents, prosecutors said that they were dismissing charges against Tampa resident Tony Patterson, 44, because of “information received” from the Hillsborough County elections supervisor.

The decision means state officials avoid potentially having a second voter fraud case thrown out by a judge in as many months.

Patterson was one of 20 people accused by DeSantis in a high-profile news conference in August of voting illegally in the wake of a statewide referendum that cleared most former convicts that had been barred from participating in elections after they served their sentences.

Millions of Americans are excluded from our democratic process on the basis of criminal disenfranchisement laws.

These laws strip voting rights from people with past criminal convictions, and they vary widely between states. Twenty six states bar community members from voting, simply on the basis of convictions in their past.

Navigating this patchwork of state laws can be exceedingly difficult, especially because election officials often misunderstand their own states’ laws, but the result of such statutes disproportionately prevents African Americans from participating in elections.

Florida had permanent disenfranchisement for some people with criminal convictions, unless the government approved individual rights restoration.

On November 6, 2018 Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment automatically restoring the right to vote to 1.4 million individuals with felony convictions in their past.

The amendment restored the right to vote for people with felony convictions, except individuals convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses, once they have completed the terms of their sentence, including probation and parole.

Those exceptions were the basis for DeSantis’ arrests and charges against the 20 suspects as the first major public move of his controversial election police unit.

As someone convicted of a felony sexual offense, authorities say Patterson was not allowed to vote under state law, but state elections officials — who report to DeSantis — cleared him to receive a voter ID card and didn’t stop him from voting in the 2020 election.

DeSantis is writing an autobiography that will publish early next year, in what observers believe is a sign that the Florida governor is planning to seek the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in the wake of his landslide reelection victory.

DeSantis’ new book, The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival, will be published by Broadside, a branch of HarperCollins Publishers that focuses on conservative fiction, and it is scheduled to come out on Feb. 28.

“DeSantis has admitted that he has weaponized the government to punish those who oppose him,” said state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who noted that the Republican dissolved the Reedy Creek Special Improvement District after Disney CEO Bob Chapek vowed to seek repeal of the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits educators from talking about LGBT related topics in classrooms and hinders the ability of teachers to stop bullying.

“Anytime a child raises a question and they’re told we can’t talk about that, that’s not appropriate, now that’s going to be a shaming experience,” explained Clinton Anderson, a psychologist at the American Psychological Association, which has condemned the law.

DeSantis represents a combination of free-market fundamentalism, ruthless ambition, anti-establishment bracado and imperial persecution of his political adversaries, that would be a terrifying force in the White House but his appeal to red-meat Republicans is far greater than that of 2020 election loser Donald Trump.

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