TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In August, 20 individuals were charged in a voter fraud crackdown led by Florida’s newly instated Office of Election Crimes and Security. Six of individuals living in Hillsborough County were accused of illegally voting while unqualified by state law.
The 20 individuals’ arrests were announced in an event headlined by Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale in August. The governor appointed the director of the Elections Crime Office in July, naming Peter Antonacci, a former elections supervisor and attorney, as leader of the new law enforcement division.
The office’s mandate was set in motion by a 2022 legislative goal of the governor’s, delivered by state lawmakers via SB 524, which created the security office and appropriated funding for election investigations. While the governor, when announcing the arrests, said it was just the start and called it an “opening salvo” for the voter fraud initiative, the move has been a source of controversy due to how it played out.
The 20 individuals named by DeSantis for voter fraud arrests were all previously convicted felons. A 2018 ballot measure approved by Florida voters to let felons vote once they’ve paid their restitution, served their time, and paid court fees, allows convicts to vote, with two exceptions.
Those convicted of sexual assault and murder are barred from enfranchisement, or being given the right to vote in Florida, even after completing their sentences and paying their restitution and court fees.
Those arrested in August were all convicted of sexual assault or murder, but were told they could vote by county elections supervisors. In September, several county election supervisors said it was up to the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections to determine if a voter is eligible, and to send that information to elections offices to update voter rolls.
According to supervisors in Pinellas and Polk counties who spoke with WFLA.com, the Department of State did not complete this duty. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement spoke with WFLA.com as well, describing the process of verifying voter information.
“Each day, Florida Department of State (DOS) provides FDLE a list of new or updated voter registrations which is checked for matches to known convicted felons in the state criminal history repository,” FDLE Public Information Officer Gretl Plessinger told WFLA, previously. “FDLE provides the list of potential matches to DOS. FDLE does not determine eligibility.”
Instead, the supervisors pointed to letters sent the same day DeSantis announced the 20 arrests, Aug. 18, saying the records that showed the convicted felons were on the voter rolls despite lack of qualification was “no fault of your own,” and that the felons had voted illegally.
Here are the statistics of voter fraud in Florida for the 2020 election, with the information that’s currently available.
In the 2020 election, which the individuals who were arrested for voter fraud cast ballots in, the Department of State reports there were 262 fraud complaints filled out, with 75 of them sent to law enforcement for potential prosecution. Additionally, that information is accompanied by a statement from the FDOS.
“Florida was a model for successful election administration in the 2020 election cycle, and we continue to seek ways to improve our processes,” according to the department.
Data from the state showed there were 14.56 million voters registered in 2020. In the November 2020 general election, 11.06 million Floridians voted. Including four individuals who were charged with voter fraud in Florida before the DeSantis announcement in August, only 0.0002% of allegedly fraudulent votes in the November election, by 24 individuals.
Douglas Oliver was one of them. A registered sex offender, Oliver voted illegally because of his conviction. He had already served his time, paid his fees, and returned to public society. Now he’s due in court to answer for a crime he, like the other 19, might not have known he was committing.
Another Hillsborough man, Nathan Hart, also accused of voter fraud spoke with WFLA.com, saying he did not know he was ineligible to have his voting rights restored. He said he was approached at the DMV in March 2020 by someone registering voters.
“I told him I was convicted of a serious Class 1 felony, but he said worst case scenario I should register and I just wouldn’t be sent a voter card if I’m ineligible,” Hart said in September. “I saw when the law [Amendment 4] passed in 2018 but I was still under probation so I didn’t pay much attention to it. So I didn’t know the details two years later when I was approached at the DMV.”
The first hearing in Oliver’s case will be at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday over Zoom. He faces charges of voting as an unqualified elector and falsely affirming he was eligible to vote, according to records from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
In the hearing, Oliver’s attorney Kevin Napper entered a plea of not guilty on his client’s behalf, asking for a date to be scheduled for discovery in the next phase of court proceedings. Oliver waived his right to appear at the Tuesday hearing. The next step in the process will be Oct. 24, according to statements made in court.