Several people who were arrested last week as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ voter fraud crackdown were notified by official government entities they were eligible to vote, according to court documents and interviews.
The defendants told authorities they had no intention of committing voter fraud, according to affidavits, and in some cases were baffled by their arrests because counties had sent them voter registration cards and approved them to vote.
The defendants were vilified by the governor during a high profile press conference last week, where DeSantis announced the arrest of 20 people — convicted murderers and sex offenders — who allegedly cast votes in the 2020 election when they weren’t eligible to. The defendants, because of their convictions, weren’t permitted to vote.
DeSantis highlighted their arrests to show his new $1.1 million election security office, created during the 2022 legislative session, was paying off and rooting out bad actors looking to commit voter fraud. Such fraud has become a top tier issue for Republicans across the country, including DeSantis, who has championed a series of election reform bills, including the creation of a first-of-its kind election investigations unit housed under Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody.
In the days since the announcement, however, several of those arrested have told media outlets or authorities that they had no idea they were not eligible to vote. In court documents filed in five counties, most say at least one official government body — in most cases a local election supervisor — incorrectly indicated to them they could vote, including allowing them to register and sending them voter cards in the mail.
Court records show that many who were swept up by authorities have little education or financial resources and are now back in the state’s criminal justice system. Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agents interviewed the defendants over a few days in early August before arresting them last Thursday.