An investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) resulted in the arrest of a 66-year-old woman accused of voting in both New Jersey and Florida primary and general elections in 2020.
Agents with the FDLE arrested Donna Prentes Brady, 66, of Ocala, Florida, on two counts of casting more than one ballot in any election, which is a third-degree felony.
Brady is also registered to vote in New Jersey at 21 Lakeview Terrace in Augusta, a Sussex County community where she has a history of changing her political party affiliation.
In the 2020 state primary and general elections, Brady allegedly voted in both Florida and New Jersey.
“Brady voted in both the 2020 state primary and general elections in Florida and New Jersey,” said a statement from the FDLE. “In both elections, she voted in person in Marion County while voting by mail in Sussex County, New Jersey.”
Brady was arrested on March 13 and released from the Marion County Jail after posting $2,000 cash bail.
In February, legislators and Gov. Ron DeSantis hastily passed a law making it easier for statewide prosecutors to go after alleged election crimes. With his expanded power, DeSantis— a presumptive rival with Donald Trump for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination—used the new law against a lot of people.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition spearheaded the successful 2018 campaign to restore voting rights to 1.4 million people barred because of past felony convictions, with the exception of murder or sexual offenses.
Months later, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill signed into law by DeSantis to keep hundreds of thousands of felons from becoming eligible to vote until they met all their past legal financial obligations.
Confusion followed. And remains. It can be difficult to track what’s owed in fines or restitution. And, if someone gets it wrong, the consequences can be severe. Violating the law is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine and five years of probation.
“Our system is broken and the state should be doing everything it can, using whatever resources it has, to set up a system where voters can determine whether they’re eligible,” said Brad Ashwell, Florida state director of All Voting is Local.
Instead, during a February special session in which the Republican-led Legislature passed a flurry of hot topic bills pushed by DeSantis, lawmakers expanded the authority of statewide prosecutors to go after those accused of election crimes – such as voting while ineligible.
The legislation came after judges dismissed three of the 20 voter fraud cases that DeSantis announced in August, reasoning that statewide prosecutors pursuing charges didn’t have the jurisdiction to do so.
DeSantis subsequently convinced lawmakers to grant statewide prosecutors the power to act against election-related crimes that are “facilitated by or connected to the use of the Internet.”
Alex Saiz, director of legal services for the Florida Justice Center, said the current confusion wasn’t a failure of planning, but a failure of desire by the state government.
“Right now there are 67 counties in the state of Florida with their own clerk’s offices and their own systems and their own websites that can determine what this information is,” he said. “There’s no one-stop shop for people to be able to get their criminal records and find out how much they owe.”
That shouldn’t be the case with modern technology, he says.
“The person basically needs an attorney to figure this out,” Saiz said. Even then, it’s complicated. “The best advice we can give our clients is to put them through a full background check, preferably an FBI background check.”
He said it’s not uncommon for someone to forget they had a conviction in more than one county – a decades-old conviction for which they have unknown outstanding legal fees. It can get even more confusing when factoring in federal felonies or felonies committed in other states.
“This is a very complicated system that I would say less than 10% of lawyers really study and work on and really understand, and if the clients get it wrong, they’re facing real criminal consequences,” Saiz said.
While not likely to pass, Ashwell from All Voting is Local said some Democrat lawmakers are planning to file a bill for this upcoming session that would put the onus on the state to determine voter eligibility.
The Florida governor’s push to punish honest voting errors was about deterring legitimate voters, according to Michael Waldman, of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
“Florida long had the country’s worst felony disenfranchisement law, a direct remnant of the Jim Crow constitutions of the late 1800s. People with felony convictions were banned from voting for life. That added up to about 1.7 million otherwise eligible voters — disproportionately Black men, given the imbalances of the criminal justice system,” said Waldman.
The Brennan Center challenged that law for over two decades and helped pass a 2018 constitutional amendment in to end the unfair system of disenfranchisement that won with 64 percent of the vote.
Election fraud is exceedingly rare, and DeSantis refused to embrace Trump’s Big Lie about a stolen 2020 election. He formed Florida’s election police to pander to a right-wing MAGA extremist electorate that has been excited by Republican fiction concerning ballot fraud while engaging in the obvious act of voter suppression.
There is no legal prohibition on being registered to vote in more than one state, but casting two ballots in one election is illegal.
A 2020 review of voting data from both states by found 327 voters registered in both New Jersey and Florida who could have potentially voted twice in the presidential election.