There are complaints that the arrests of Black voters in Florida are proof of voter suppression. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claims he’s just cracking down on voter fraud. The recently released video footage showing police officers in Tampa arresting Black Americans has sparked outrage. The video has gone viral on social media.
In August, police arrested Tony Patterson outside his Tampa home for voter fraud.
“What is wrong with this state, man?” Patterson can be heard saying in the video. He was escorted to a police car in handcuffs. “Voter fraud? Y’all said anybody with a felony could vote, man.”
Patterson wasn’t the only voter arrested. Of the 19 people arrested, 12 were registered as Democrats, and at least 13 are Black, the Times/Herald reported. Of the Black people arrested, most were Black men, according to reports. Those arrested had previous felon charges for which they served time, and how they are facing up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine after being accused by DeSantis and state police of both registering and voting, illegally, The Tampa Bay Times reported.
Body-worn camera footage, which was obtained by the Times/Herald through public records requests, recorded by local police captured the outrage of citizens who also found themselves arrested on Aug. 18 for casting a ballot following investigations by DeSantis’ new Office of Election Crimes and Security.
The arrests were carried out by state police officers accompanied by local law enforcement.
“They’re going to pay the price,” DeSantis said during the news conference.
Romona Oliver, 55, was heading out for work when police arrested her.
“Oh my God,” she can be heard saying on the video.
An officer informed her she was being arrested for fraud, a third-degree felony, for voting illegally in 2020.
“Voter fraud?” she answered. “I voted, but I ain’t committing no fraud.”
Those arrested are accused of violating a state law that doesn’t allow people convicted of murder or felony sex offenses to be able to vote after they complete their sentence. A 2018 state constitutional amendment that restored the right to vote to many felons excluded this group of felons, The Tampa Bay Times reported.
But there is still confusion about who was eligible, especially since most of those arrested say they were allowed to register.
For example, Oliver, who served 18 years in prison on a second-degree murder charge, was allowed to register to vote at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles on Feb. 14, 2020. Six months later when she updated her address, she filled out another registration form.
The Department of State does eligibility checks, and the agency declared Oliver was permitted to vote–both times. She was given a voter ID card on each occasion. But on March 30, 2022, Oliver was removed from the rolls–more than two years later.
Robert Lee Wood, one of the people arrested, recently had his charges dismissed, in the first case to be resolved since DeSantis launched his voter-fraud initiative.
Wood was charged with two counts of voter fraud. In 1990, he had been convicted of a crime and did not have his rights restored before he voted, The Washington Post reported.
On Oct. 21, a Miami judge dismissed the case against him. The judge ruled that the statewide prosecutor didn’t have jurisdiction. The governor announced he would appeal.
“The state approved his voter’s registration and issued Wood a voter identification card,” Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael Gottlieb wrote in a motion to dismiss a different case connected to the voter-fraud charges. “He voted under the authority granted him by the government, and now that same body is seeking to incarcerate him for the very act they approved and encouraged him to take.”
DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin said the state will still pursue the cases.
“The state will continue to enforce the law and ensure that murderers and rapists who are not permitted to vote do not unlawfully do so,” he said. “Florida will not be a state in which elections are left vulnerable or cheaters unaccountable.”
Image: Screenshot from video, https://twitter.com/Phil_Lewis_/status/1582348121329524736?