DeSantis’ electoral police charged 20 with voter fraud. Advocates say there is more to the story.

Last month, the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis has announced the first charges brought by a new electoral police force he helped create in the state. But in the weeks since, mixed messages have emerged that could make it harder for the state to secure convictions, advocates and at least one prominent Republican official said.

Voting rights advocates have accused them of what they describe as a confusing process that makes it difficult for suspects or election officials to tell whether they are eligible to vote.

All 20 had previously been incarcerated for murder or felony sex offenses — which bar them from voting in Florida — and voted illegally in the 2020 election, DeSantis said in an August news conference announcing the charges. Under Florida law, while many felons can regain their right to vote under a constitutional amendment enacted in 2018 through a ballot initiative, those convicted of the most violent crimes, such as murder and rape, cannot.

“This is just the opening ceremony,” DeSantis, who is widely believed to be considering a run for president in 2024, said at a news conference. “Before we came up with this [new office] There are a few instances where these seem to fall through cracks. “

Advocates claim that those arrested did not know they were breaking the law — and in many cases, government officials had sent them voter registration materials. Many are now urging those arrested to fight the charges. They also questioned whether a new police force was the best way to repair damaged systems, and decried the lack of a central database that could help officers avoid redundant criminal charges.

“Obviously, no one informed them” they were not eligible to vote. “They mailed them voter registration cards, which was the exact opposite of the intent of breaking the law, and they basically wiped them out,” the Republican senator said. Jeff Brandes, the creator of another 2019 law that made it harder for ex-felons to vote, in an interview.

“This makes proving intent incredibly difficult,” Brandes added. “It will be difficult for the state’s attorneys to prove they did it on purpose,” he said. Brandes predicts the charges will eventually be dropped.

Under Florida law, to convict an individual of voter fraud, the state must prove that they knowingly and knowingly registered to vote — or vote — despite knowing they were ineligible to do so.

“I just don’t know how you can prove that you are knowingly breaking the law for someone who thinks they’re eligible to vote because they’ve received a state-approved voter registration card,” said Neil Walz, deputy director of the Florida Coalition for Rights Restoration. Helped many arrested persons find lawyers and pay bail.

Incidents of voter fraud are extremely rare in the United States, and past and current investigations by law enforcement agencies across the country have struggled to find a handful of cases among the millions of votes cast in the United States.

A new police force and a chaotic system

DeSantis signed a bill in April to formally create a police force dedicated to hunting down voter fraud and other election crimes — a top priority for Republicans as former President Donald Trump continues to falsely claim Claims he stole the 2020 election.

Then in August, DeSantis announced the force’s first arrests, revealing in a news conference that the Office of Election Crime and Security would indict 20 people previously convicted of felony murder or sex crimes. Florida’s 2018 amendment ended a permanent ban on voting for felons, except those convicted of murder and felony sex crimes. However, this reinstatement also excludes convicted offenders who have not completed “all terms”. In 2019, Florida lawmakers, led by Brandes, enacted a law that includes the payment of all court costs and fines.

PICTURES: Floridians head to polls on state primary day
A voter enters a polling place on August 8, primary election day. 23 Tampa, FLOctavio Jones/Getty Images

In the years since, Brandes and Volz say they have created a labyrinthine record of who is and isn’t eligible to vote in the state, which they say has led many of those arrested to believe or not at all. It is not known whether the core factor of their voting rights has been restored. They and other voting rights advocates point out that the state has never created a central database that can be used to effectively cross-check and determine who can and cannot vote through the criminal justice system.

Of the 18 officials Said to have been arrested so far on the charges, many said they received voter registration cards from the county election oversight office and thought they were eligible to vote, while some said they returned registration cards just to determine if they were eligible, according to NBC News Court documents reviewed and reports from The Miami Herald and other media outlets, vote.

In a lengthy email, a spokesman for the Florida State Department, of which the Office of Election Crime and Security is part, said, The duty to determine whether a felon is eligible to vote falls on the individual.

Spokesman Mark Ard described a complex and often time-consuming process in which state agencies check against each other in determining whether voters qualify as felons, and hinted that individuals are simply returning registration materials when violated the law, even though the materials were sent to individuals by election officials in many cases.

“Felons who didn’t have their rights reinstated filed voter registration applications (which are felonies in and of themselves) and then voted,” Ader said.

Ard also said that among the officials sending such material, county election supervisors have the power to take action to remove voters from the statewide voter registration system.

“There is nothing to prohibit election monitors from collecting this information independently of the department,” he said.

“These people lied when they registered to vote. They were never qualified and there was no confusion on this point. We are confident that when all the facts and evidence are revealed through the legal process, the reasons for these people’s arrest will be clear, ‘ said Ader. A DeSantis spokesman did not answer NBC News’ questions on the subject.

However, Politico reported this week that Peter Antonacci, director of the election crime office, sent a letter to the state’s county election supervisors saying they had done nothing wrong. NBC News did not receive the letter.

Although the materials were sent by local election officials, the state is to blame, Brandes and Volz said.

“Ultimately, the state is responsible for determining voter eligibility on the state’s electoral roll,” Walz said. He also said he would be “surprised” if the charges were established.

Walz’s group, which is working with many of the accused, said no one, either from the county election oversight office or the state, has informed anyone arrested that they are ineligible to vote.

“There is no evidence that it happened,” he said.

Going forward, Walz and Brandes said the Florida State Department should establish a well-maintained database of Floridians that includes Floridians convicted of murder or felony sex offenses, as well as criminals who still owe court fees, and accordingly Update the electoral roll.

“County election supervisors don’t have the resources or access to multiple databases to make that kind of decision,” Brandes said.

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