When police arrested Tony Patterson outside his Tampa home in August, he protested as he was escorted into a police car. Body-worn camera footage recorded by police captured the confusion and outrage of Hillsborough County residents who found themselves in handcuffs for casting ballots following investigations by Gov. Ron DeSantis' new Office of Election Crimes and Security. The Aug. 18 arrests, conducted hours before DeSantis called a news conference, were carried out by state and local law enforcement, the Tampa Bay Times reports. The footage obtained through public records requests offers a glimpse of the effects of Desantis's efforts to root out perceived voter fraud. Of the 19 people arrested, 12 were registered as Democrats and at least 13 were Black. Romona Oliver, 55, was leaving for work when police walked up to her driveway and told her they had a warrant for her arrest for fraud, a third-degree felony, for voting illegally in 2020. Oliver and 19 others face up to five years in prison. They are accused of violating a state law that doesn't allow people convicted of murder or felony sex offenses to automatically be able to vote after they complete their sentence. A 2018 constitutional amendment that restored the right to vote to many felons excluded this group.
The amendment and subsequent legislative actions caused mass confusion about who was eligible and the state's voter registration form offer no clarity. They only require a potential voter to swear, under penalty of perjury, that they are not a felon, or if they are, that their rights have been restored. The forms do not clarify that those with murder convictions don't get automatic restoration of their rights. Oliver, who served 18 years in prison on a second-degree murder charge, registered to vote at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in 2020. Six months later, she updated her address and completed another registration form. After state eligibility checks, she was given a voter ID card both times. She was removed from the rolls on March 30, 2022. The recordings by Tampa police and Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies show that officers were patient and almost apologetic. Nathan Hart, 49, was advised by police after explaining that someone a state employee had told him to fill out a form, and if he was allowed to vote, he would be granted. DeSantis' voter fraud arrests are being carried out by the Office of Statewide Prosecution, which is restricted by law to prosecuting crimes, including voting, involving two or more judicial circuits.