Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature passed a bill which Governor DeSantis signed into law to create the state’s first Office of Election Crimes and Security. This new office was tasked with investigating crimes and enforcing laws related to voter fraud.
To be clear: voter fraud did not alter the outcome of a single election in 2020. Voter fraud is all but non-existent in Florida. The 2020 election was one of the smoothest elections in our state’s history. The conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was fraudulent is a lie.
When the bill was first filed, voting rights experts cast doubts about the ability of the state to enforce these new laws fairly. Serious questions were raised about whether this new office could be used to intimidate certain voters or entire groups, especially those citizens who recently regained their right to vote after being incarcerated for a felony conviction.
Nevertheless, Republican leaders in the legislature and Governor proceeded, and in August 2022, 19 people were arrested. After a series of public records requests by the news media, we now know that 15 of the 19 people arrested are Black, confirming the worst suspicions about how this law would be enforced.
The Palm Beach Post reports: “It was always obvious that this would be used to target and strike fear in Black voters, and this is coming to fruition,” said state Sen. Bobby Powell, a West Palm Beach Democrat who argued against establishment of DeSantis’ unit, which is called the Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security. Powell and others see the election crimes unit as part of a national wave of voter suppression efforts aimed at tipping the political scales in favor of Republicans by limiting the influence of Black voters, the Democratic Party’s most supportive voting bloc.
The arresting officers also seemed confused by the situation and almost apologetic as they handcuffed people for crimes they themselves did not completely understand. Take a look at this Tampa Bay Times story, which includes the officers’ bodycam videos. Be warned, the bodycam videos may be difficult to watch.
The worst part about these arrests is that the state allowed each of the accused to receive voter identification cards. Some even report that state employees at the Department of Motor Vehicles told them to register to vote.
Even the author of the Rights Restoration (Amendment 4, 2018) implementation bill, Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes, has significant questions about the Governor’s arrests, tweeting: “As the author of the bill implementing amend 4 it was our intent that those ineligible would be granted some grace by the state if they registered without intent to commit voter fraud. Some of the individuals did check with SOEs and believed they could register. #Intentmatters”Yes, intent matters. Governor DeSantis’ intent to scare Black voters away from the polls is all too clear and reminds us that the legacy of Jim Crow lives on in Florida.