When Leo Grant Jr. , 53, cast his ballot in the 2020 election, it was the first time he had ever voted. This August, three Florida officers showed up at his home in Palm Beach County and said he'd voted illegally despite a sex offense conviction in 1999. They placed handcuffs around his wrists and drove him to jail. Grant is one of 20 people — most of whom are Black — charged by an elections police force created by Gov. Ron DeSantis to pursue allegations of election fraud and improper voting. Those arrested are all accused of voting in violation of a state law that forbids those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses from casting ballots, reports the Washington Post.
In the days after DeSantis’s campaign-style event to announce those arrests, cracks have begun to emerge in the state’s case amid intensifying questions about whether the governor and his election police unit have weaponized their new powers for political gain. Several of those charged said they were led to believe by election officials and voter registration groups that they were eligible to vote as part of Florida’s push to restore the voting rights of most felons. They expressed despair that they could face prison time for simply misunderstanding the law. Attorneys representing some of those being prosecuted said the state appears to have targeted individuals who made honest mistakes amid a shifting and confusing legal landscape. They are skeptical the cases will hold up in court, noting prosecutors will need to prove those arrested knew they were ineligible. Those arrested had submitted voter registration applications that were processed by the state. “If the state is unable to determine that these people were not eligible to vote, how on Earth are these individuals themselves supposed to know?” asked Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor and expert on election laws. “They’re punching down and targeting the low-hanging fruit.”