The Washington Post

A cynical campaign

There are revealing details in Mr. Desantis’s voter fraud crackdown in Florida.

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AS REPUBLICAN activists waved signs saying “My Vote Counts,” Florida Gov. Ron Desantis (R) stood in a Broward County courtroom last month to tout the first deliverabl­es from the state’s controvers­ial election police squad. “They did not go through any process. They did not get their rights restored, and yet they went ahead and voted anyways. . . . And now they’re going to pay the price,” he said of the 20 people arrested and charged with voting illegally in the 2020 elections. Mr. Desantis revealed little about the individual cases — and no wonder. Many of those charged had no idea they were unable to vote; some had even received official government notificati­ons that they were eligible. None of that seemed to matter to Mr. Desantis, whose crackdown on voter fraud isn’t about a real threat to election integrity but rather his desire to score political points as he runs for reelection and considers a possible 2024 presidenti­al bid.

Since Mr. Desantis’s stage-managed news conference on Aug. 18, details about the people caught up in his cynical campaign have emerged. Many, as Politico reported, have little education and few financial resources and believed, based on interactio­ns with election or other officials, that they were allowed to vote. Romona Oliver, newly released from prison after serving a 20-year murder sentence, went to the Hillsborou­gh tax collector’s office to register to vote. She admitted to having a felony conviction when asked, but the official helping her submitted an applicatio­n, and she soon received a voter card in the mail. Peter Washington, nearing the end of his 10-year sentence in 2006 for attempted sexual battery, was enrolled in a class to ease his reentry into society when he said a probation officer told him his civil rights would be automatica­lly restored upon his release from prison. Once home years later, he received a voter registrati­on form in the mail in 2019, filled it out and received a voter card from the Orange County supervisor of elections.

Florida voters passed a state constituti­onal amendment permitting felons to regain their voting rights, but it doesn’t apply to those convicted of murder or sex crimes. Ignorance or confusion about the law doesn’t mean it was permissibl­e for these people to vote. But it is a gross overreacti­on for them to be dragged from their homes in handcuffs at the crack of dawn, thrown into jail and

publicly vilified. They face up to $5,000 in fines and up to five years in prison.

Instead of spending $1.1 million on a special police unit to root out a problem that doesn’t exist — the 20 votes of those arrested last month — most of whom are Black — account for 0.00018 percent of the 11 million ballots cast in Florida in 2020 — the state would be better off using its money to create a system that can easily verify whether someone has the right to vote after serving time for a felony conviction. Yet Mr. Desantis, who tried to thwart passage of the Florida constituti­onal amendment restoring many felons’ voting rights, clearly is not interested in making it easier for these people to vote. He would rather scare them away.

 ?? GARY MCCULLOUGH/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Florida Gov. Ron Desantis at the state Capitol in Tallahasse­e on Aug. 23.
GARY MCCULLOUGH/ASSOCIATED PRESS Florida Gov. Ron Desantis at the state Capitol in Tallahasse­e on Aug. 23.

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