Suspects arrested under the authority of the Election Crime office established by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are heading to trial, but the process is off to a bumpy start for the governor.
Judge Milton Hirsch from the Florida Circuit Court dismissed the very first case brought before him by the office on Friday. It involved Robert Lee Wood, 56, who had registered to vote in 2020 after he was approached by a canvasser and sent a registration card by the state. Prosecutors claim he’s ineligible to vote due to a conviction from 1991, and he knew this at the time of voting. Wood argued that he wasn’t aware he wasn’t allowed to vote. Larry David, Wood’s attorney, says Judge Hirsch threw out the case.
In his ruling Hirsch claims Wood’s actions don’t amount to “criminal activity”:
“Robert Lee Wood’s misconduct, if misconduct it was, consisted in registering to vote, and voting, in his county of residence. Yes, his voter application and his ballot were transported to another Florida jurisdiction. But they were not transported by him, nor by any putatively criminal co-perpetrator,” the judge claimed. “Even assuming that Mr. Wood’s passive role in the transmission of his voter application form and completed ballot to Tallahassee is ‘activity’ that can be ascribed to him, it is not his ‘criminal activity’.”
This does not bode well for DeSantis, as all of the cases hinge on prior felony convictions which should have prevented the suspects from being able to vote. Reportedly, many of those arrested claim they were not advised of their inability to vote until after their ballots had already been cast.
On Wednesday, police bodycam footage of the apprehension of the suspects was released. In the video, both the suspects and the police appear to be confused about the charges, which reportedly stem from the time that voting laws were changed in Florida.
“I thought … felons were able to vote,” said Tony Patterson who was caught in the roundup. “Why would y’all let me vote if I wasn’t able to vote?”
“I’ve never seen these charges before in my entire life,” said the arresting officer over the radio.
— Bo Snerdley (@BoSnerdley) October 19, 2022
On August 18, DeSantis called a press conference to discuss the work that his election crimes bureau had been doing and announced the arrests under suspicion of voter fraud.
“In 2020, Florida ran an efficient, transparent election that avoided the major problems we saw in other states. At the same time, the election was not perfect, which is why we continue our efforts to ensure the integrity of our elections,” he began.
“Our new election crimes office has sprung into action to hold individuals accountable for voter fraud. Today’s actions send a clear signal to those who are thinking about ballot harvesting or fraudulently voting. If you commit an elections crime, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” DeSantis continued.
It remains to be seen how many, if any, of the cases will actually end up being prosecuted.
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