Gov. DeSantis’ election police force announces arrests of 20 for voter fraud

Author: Aaron Navarro / CBS
Gov. Ron DeSantis with members of law enforcement at a new conference Thursday, August 18, 2022. Credit: CBS

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that 20 people who voted in the 2020 election would be arrested and charged Thursday for breaking the state’s election laws on felon voting rights.

The move was described as the “opening salvo” for the Office of Election Crimes and Security, created by DeSantis and approved by the Florida Legislature. Some fear the office could discourage minorities and other communities from voting. The office began its work on July 1.

DeSantis said the twenty people arrested were all convicted for either murder or sexual assault and were mostly from Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. He added they were not among those whose voting rights were restored by “Amendment 4,” a ballot measure that overwhelmingly passed in 2018 which restores voting rights to felons in the state, with the exception of those convicted of rape or murder.

“They did not go through any process. They did not get their rights restored and yet they went ahead and voted anyways. That is against the law and now they’re going to pay the price for it,” DeSantis said at a news conference Thursday. “These people who we’re following up – are outside the contours of Amendment 4.”

The potential penalty is up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

DeSantis also said the Office of Election Crimes and Security would also be looking at voters who were undocumented when they cast their vote in 2020. Just under 11 million Floridians voted in 2020.

“This is just the first step,” DeSantis said. “There are going to be foreign nationals. We want the federal government to be working constructively on this, and so far, that has not been the case. We have an obligation to make sure that U.S. citizens are voting.”

Cecile Scoon, president of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Florida, said there are still open questions about the election crimes office, such as how law enforcement will be utilized and if their presence will be felt at the polling centers.

“It’s potentially threatening people. They feel these police — how are they going to be utilized? Are they going to be standing over people’s shoulders?” she said.

Scoon added that was concerned that after DeSantis’ recent removal of State Attorney Andrew Warren from office, election supervisors and officials could be next.

“That was a red flag for me. Because he had removed one person from office, there was a concern of, ‘what’s next? What’s going on?” Scoon said.

News of the arrests comes at a time when many Republicans still believe there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election, a claim perpetuated by former President Donald Trump. A CBS News poll from July showed that 69% of Republicans believe there was widespread voter fraud in 2020, despite the rejection of almost 70 legal challenges, according to the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project.

“We must have elected leaders that are ensuring free and fair elections and also assuring our public and the citizens that they can have confidence in the election process,” said Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd. “I am sure this will allay fears that behind the scenes, within state government, people are ignoring violations of law. That is not the case.”

Multiple Republican nominees on the ballot in November have signaled that they harbor doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 elections, including at least nine out of the 24 nominees for secretary of state, often the highest election official in the state, according to a CBS News analysis.

DeSantis has often said the 2020 elections in Florida were very secure, and praised the state’s quick count of ballots, compared to other battleground states that took much longer.

But he has also shared the stage with candidates who believe the election was stolen, like Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano.

“A potential presidential candidate in 2024, DeSantis is up for reelection this fall. Florida’s primaries are Tuesday, Aug. 23, but he is running unopposed.”

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