Many Floridians facing criminal voter fraud charges say they were advised by government officials that they could cast ballots. Documents raise questions about whether the 19 people charged last week knowingly committed fraud or whether they were confused about their eligibility, according to The Guardian. All those charged have prior murder or sexual offense convictions, which means they cannot vote in Florida unless they receive clemency. All the defendants submitted voter registration applications, which were approved by local election officials ahead of the 2020 election, and several said they had received voter registration cards in the mail, which they took as a signal that they were eligible to vote. All of the defendants are charged with at least one count of false swearing on a voter registration application and voting as an unqualified elector, both felonies punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Prosecutors must the defendants knew they were ineligible when they registered and voted. They have yet to submit any evidence showing the defendants were explicitly warned their felonies barred them from voting. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the charges last week to signal the aggressiveness with which a newly created office in Florida – the first of its kind – will investigate and prosecute election fraud.
Those who were charged registered to vote after 2018, when Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment that lifted Florida’s lifetime voting ban for people with felony convictions. Amendment 4 left those convicted of murder or sexual crimes permanently disenfranchised, and state legislators passed a law that made it extremely difficult for people with felony convictions to determine if they were eligible to vote. In addition to laying out the murder and sex crimes that would cause someone to lose voting rights permanently, the measure required people to repay outstanding fines and fees they owed before they could vote again. Affidavits offered little evidence that the people now charged knew they were not protected by Amendment 4 and ineligible to vote. It's uncertain why the Florida secretary of state’s office, failed to remove the voters with disqualifying felony convictions from the rolls before the 2020 election. Litigation showed that Florida officials had no way of easily checking new registrants’ eligibility and that there was no way for anyone uncertain of their status to figure out how much money they owed or if they were eligible. Stanford Blake, a retired judge from Miami, said he thought prosecutors would have a hard time proving their case absent more information that defendants knew they were ineligible to vote. Blake called the charges "pure politics" by the governor to justify the state’s new office of election crimes and security.