“Florida Changes Law to Boost Unjust ‘Voter Fraud’ Prosecutions”

Brennan Center analysis:

Florida’s prosecution of ineligible voters with past convictions was politically motivated from the beginning. The individuals accused didn’t knowingly commit voter fraud — they simply weren’t aware that their past criminal convictions barred them from voting. Some local prosecutors have, rightfully, declined to bring charges under similar circumstances.

In response, rather than calling an end to the needless criminal cases and addressing the root cause of the confusion that led to them, the state government has doubled down, changing state law to tighten Gov. Ron DeSantis’s control over the prosecution of alleged “voter fraud” identified by the state’s new and unnecessary election crimes office. It’s the latest chapter in an episode that illustrates why politics and law enforcement should be kept separate, especially in the realm of voting and elections. 

DeSantis initially proposed the Office of Election Crimes and Security — which, as first conceived, would have had prosecutorial power — because “people weren’t getting prosecuted” by local prosecutors. In its first round of arrests conducted just five days before Florida’s primary election last August, the office partnered with state and local police in the Democratic-leaning counties of Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach. Flanked by over a dozen uniformed police officers, DeSantis announced the arrest of 20 people with past convictions, hailing these as his election crimes office’s “opening salvo.”

Of the 19 people the Brennan Center has been able to identify, all appear to have been confused or misled about their eligibility when they allegedly voted in 2020. Recognizing that this misunderstanding is hardly a crime, some local prosecutors declined to bring charges, likely prompting statewide prosecutors to seize control of the cases.

lorida courts, however, put a roadblock in DeSantis’s path. State law only allowed the office of statewide prosecution to prosecute certain crimes that affected or occurred in 2 or more of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. To account for this, statewide prosecutors argued they had the authority to prosecute the arrested individuals because they registered and voted in one circuit, while state authorities in a different circuit approved their registrations and allowed them to vote. Not convinced by this tortured logic, which would effectively treat Florida’s Division of Elections as a coconspirator, four of the office’s cases were dismissed by judges in BrowardMiami-Dade, and Orange counties as violating state law.

To salvage the prosecutions, the legislature passed, and DeSantis signed on February 15, S.B. 4-B, which expands the authority of statewide prosecutors so they can prosecute alleged voter fraud identified by the state’s election police. Troublingly, this change boosts the executive branch’s ability to use law enforcement for political ends. Unlike local prosecutors, who are elected by the public, statewide prosecutors are supervised by the state’s attorney general — an ally of DeSantis — and are thus more subject to partisan agendas….

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