In a made-for-TV spectacle Thursday focused on the work of his new “election crimes” state law enforcement office, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) declared that 20 out of 11.1 million votes cast in the 2020 election in the state had been submitted by people allegedly voting illegally.
The event included all of the necessary law-and-order dress-up: Held in the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, DeSantis spoke in front of a wall of uniformed law enforcement officers and behind a podium labeled “ELECTION INTEGRITY.”
The governor’s remarks were punctuated by the cheers of an audience in the courtroom’s jury box and public gallery, which held up signs, distributed minutes earlier, that read “MY VOTE COUNTS.”
The Washington Post reported that a volunteer with the Palm Beach County Republican Party monitored who entered the room, and that the Democratic vice mayor of Fort Lauderdale — where the event was held – was denied entry.
Joe Scott, Broward County’s supervisor of elections, told The Miami Herald his office hadn’t received any advanced notice on the substance of the press event; rumors swirled ahead of time that DeSantis was coming down to announce Scott’s suspension.
“They were very mysterious about it, with everybody. Nobody really knew what it was about,” Scott told the Herald. “You’re making an election-related announcement in my backyard, and they didn’t tell me anything about it.”
During Thursday’s event, Peter Antonacci, the DeSantis-appointed director of the Election Crimes office, claimed without evidence that illegal voting may have swayed a 2021 special congressional election — though the race he referred to was a Democratic primary in a single congressional district, not a statewide general election.
“You may think that 20 voters is not a lot. But you’re in Broward County and you know that you just elected a person to Congress here this year by five votes,” Antonacci said, adding: “I’m certain that in that tranche of voters, there were plenty of illegal ballots cast, and it is just awfully unfair to the supporters of political candidates, to the candidates and to the public at large.”
DeSantis didn’t go into detail about the alleged offenders, except to say that they had at some point been convicted of either murder or sexual assault, and then, at some time after that, “they went ahead and voted anyways.”
People with those convictions aren’t eligible to have their voting rights restored in Florida. But, as the Herald noted, the Florida Division of Elections is required to inform county supervisors of their findings of voter eligibility, and it’s not clear whether that occurred in these cases.
Though DeSantis said 20 people were being charged, a press release listed only 17 people, most in their 50s or 60s: The other three, Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesperson Gretl Plessinger told TPM, have not yet been taken into custody.
It’s not clear yet, because Plessinger did not make charging documents available, how much the defendants knew about their alleged criminal activity; in another recent case of alleged election crimes in Florida, an Alachua County election official registered several people in government custody to vote even though they were allegedly not eligible. The election official was cleared of wrongdoing, while the incarcerated would-be voters now face charges.
“They actually helped us fill out the voter rights registration forms,” one of the defendants in that case, John Rivers, told Fresh Take Florida. “They came in and recruited us to vote, and then you know, told us that we could vote and now they’re charging us for voting.”
“I don’t understand how I can be charged with voter misconduct,” said another defendant, Dedrick De’Ron Baldwin. “All I was doing was what they told me I had a right to do.”
On Thursday, DeSantis said the 20 voters he announced were facing charges had committed “election fraud.” But the Florida Department of Law Enforcement press release actually listed two alleged violations: “false affirmation – voting or elections,” and “voting as an unqualified elector,” both third-degree felonies.
More important than the details of the alleged violations, apparently, was praising Ron DeSantis. Ashley Moody, Florida’s attorney general, commended “our very detail-oriented governor.” And DeSantis himself paused at one point to note the source of all the hubbub.
“This was my idea!” the governor exclaimed.