As part of a presentation on election integrity at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that 20 individuals will be charged with voter fraud, which is a third degree felony.
The governor noted that the people who allegedly voted illegally, mostly in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, had previous criminal records. They were reportedly former felons who had been disenfranchised but who voted anyway even though their voting rights had not been restored. DeSantis said his new election crimes police force, the Office of Election Crimes and Security, would deal with their cases.
“These folks voted illegally… They are disqualified from voting because they have been convicted of either murder or sexual assault!,” DeSantis said. “That is against the law and now they’re gonna pay the price for it.” If convicted, they could face up to five years in prison.
In April, DeSantis signed a bill creating the unit, comprised of 15 members whose work will include preliminary investigations of election fraud. The law also makes ballot harvesting a felony instead of a misdemeanor and increases fines on organizations that violate election laws from $1,000 to $50,000.
Alongside Desantis at the press conference Thursday was a team of officials from his administration who spoke about the state’s next initiatives in this policy area.
Peter Antonacci, Florida’s elections crime director, said that at the state level especially, election fraud is extremely consequential as a few votes can mean the difference between a candidate’s loss or victory. He seemed to reference the recent election in Florida’s 20th congressional district, which was won by five votes, saying that he is “certain” that there were “plenty of illegal ballots cast” in that race. Antonacci is a former Broward County Supervisor of Elections.
It had been rumored that DeSantis would add to the election integrity crackdown by declaring a take-over of the office of the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott for a potential audit. Scott had been accused of violating a state election law after unattended ballot drop boxes, forbidden by the measure, were reportedly found outside his office. In response to backlash, a spokesman for the Broward Supervisor of Elections said that the person monitoring the ballot box was cropped out of the photo on purpose by the journalist who published it. DeSantis confirmed Thursday that he would not suspend or take action against Scott.
Nikki Fried, DeSantis’ Democratic opponent in the Florida gubernatorial race, live tweeted the press conference, criticizing it as political theater. Since launching her campaign, she has characterized DeSantis as an authoritarian demagogue that is tyrannizing the state of Florida.
“Watching. Looks like it’s just a political PR stunt and rally. How many police officers does Ron think he needs behind him to intimidate voters? Looks like at least 20,” she said. “And why is he in Broward? We’ve seen Republican voter fraud all over the state.”