What you need to know about Ron DeSantis political ‘voter fraud’ arrests

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When they went to the polls in November 2018, Florida voters had two choices. They selected Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) to be their governor. So do they overwhelmingly decided to grant felons the right to vote by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

The passage of Amendment 4, the initiative to restore voting rights to felons, was not the end of this particular fight. Even before taking office, however, DeSantis called by legislation that would limit the application of the seemingly simple politics. In June 2019, the new governor signed a bill that ordered felons to be granted bail only after paying any outstanding fines or fees they owed.

This is more complicated than it sounds, both because of the direct cost of making the payments and because of the way those fees might have been assessed. It was often difficult for those subject to the law to determine what they owed.

“Florida does not have a centralized database that allows people to find out what legal financial obligations they owe to the state,” ProPublica said. explained last month. “Instead, its 67 counties and various state agencies each maintain their own databases.”

The law was challenged in court, with opponents arguing that it was a modern poll tax. In September 2020, shortly before the first election in which these people would have been able to vote, a federal appeals court ruled that the pay-your-dues stipulation could stand.

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The problem was that several people covered by Amendment 4 had already signed up. That ProPublica article details the case of Kelvin Bolton, who had registered while in prison. A county election official came and told the inmates they could register, so they did. He doesn’t remember being told he had to pay any fines so when he voted in the November election, he was unwittingly committing another crime.

ProPublica found 10 examples of people similarly affected: told they could register to vote and then vote, ending up with criminal charges.

Those 10 cases likely do not overlap with the 20 announced by DeSantis at a campaign-style event Thursday. The governor, up for re-election this year and with an obvious eye toward the 2024 Republican presidential primary, said a new “election fraud” arm of state law enforcement had identified 20 potential violations of state voting laws.

“All of these 20 people were disqualified from voting after being convicted of either murder or a sex crime,” the governor’s office said. said in a statement, “but they chose to vote anyway, and now all have been charged with voter fraud — a third-degree felony punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 5 years in prison.”

This “murder or felony sex offense” stipulation is important: Amendment 4 barred the right to vote from people convicted of these crimes. But it’s also easy to see how the confusing process of implementing the amendment could have increased the chances of unintended violations of the law.

It is very important to put it in context. Attendance at DeSantis’ announcement was restricted, with “a woman who identified herself as a Palm Beach County Republican Party volunteer” allowed into the room, the Washington Post reports. Just as DeSantis was aware of the political utility of announcing the creation of the “Office of Election Crimes and Security” earlier this year, amid continued agitation on the right over the specter of rampant voter fraud , is aware of the utility. of standing in front of a lectern and announcing that suspected criminals had been found.

Keep in mind that’s 20 voters of more than 11 million who voted in the state that year. Some perspective for this is below. The little black dot indicates 20 votes out of the 2020 total, and rest assured, the black dot is really there.

And that this is not “voter fraud”, as such. An operating theory of Republican politics in the era of Donald Trump has been that there is a rampant effort to vote illegally on behalf of unwitting actors. It’s about people casting votes on their own. In whose name are their votes simply rejected. It is for “electoral fraud” that it is above a visa for “illegal immigration”.

Most importantly, the allegations being made are just that: allegations. There have been several examples in recent years of states making incredible fraud announcements just to have these allegations. wither. Skepticism is warranted here, especially given DeSantis’ track record of exaggerating culture war victories that turn out to be little more than the hype itself.

There has been actual vote fraud alleged in Florida. Four people who live in the conservative and elderly community of the Villages have been arrested for fraud. DeSantis did not hold a press conference to celebrate this law enforcement triumph.

This sheds light on another particularly revealing aspect of the governor’s announcement. The subtext of much of the concern over alleged illegal voting is that it’s the wrong people who are casting votes, which is clearly what DeSantis wants to point out. In Wisconsin, for example, a focus of allegations of election “rigging” was that systems were implemented that made it easier for people in low-turnout areas (cities, places with larger non-white populations) to vote. The backlash against Amendment 4 had an obvious basis in the concern that those new voters would vote for the Democrats, in part because they were disproportionately black.

This week brought related news in this regard. The Department of Justice argued in a court filing that a law DeSantis signed last year restricting access to voting included “provisions that impose disproportionate burdens on black voters” — provisions “chosen precisely because of those burdens to ensure a partisan advantage” . The submission was offered when an appellate court evaluates whether a judgment of the lower court that the law is discriminatory should stand.

What DeSantis wanted from his event Thursday was for the media to elevate his claim that he is taking a tough stance against fraud. What he demonstrated most effectively, however, is how he has repeatedly taken measures that restrict access to the vote despite the undeniable frequency of minor fraud in Florida elections (as he himself has pointed out).

And, of course, that he’s very interested in telling the conservative ecosystem exactly what it wants to hear.

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