Floridians arrested for voter fraud expressed confusion, police videos show

A voting booth is seen at a polling center inside a fire station in the Coral Gables neighbourhood in Miami, Florida, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Oct 19 (Reuters) - Videos published by the Tampa Bay Times show Florida ex-convicts expressing bafflement and frustration as they were arrested for voting illegally, a result of the first investigations by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis' new election police agency.

In one video, Romona Oliver reacted with shock when police arrived at her house early one morning and arrested her as she was headed to work.

"Voter fraud?" she asked. "I voted, but I ain't commit no fraud."

The videos from officers' body cameras, which the newspaper obtained through public records requests, were taken on Aug. 18, hours before DeSantis held a news conference to announce the arrests of 20 people for voting illegally in the 2020 election.

DeSantis said all of those arrested had been convicted of murder or sex crimes, which excluded them from a 2018 Florida state constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to other felons who had finished their sentences. Oliver was convicted of second degree murder, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

"They do not have the right to vote," DeSantis said. "Now they're going to pay the price for it."

The arrests marked the first cases brought by the Office of Election Crimes and Security, which was established earlier this year at the urging of DeSantis and includes sworn officers from the state Department of Law Enforcement.

The office's creation was part of a broader push by Republicans around the country for more restrictive voting laws in the wake of former President Donald Trump's baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged.

DeSantis, widely seen as a presidential contender in 2024, has said the office will restore public trust in election integrity. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Democrats and civil rights groups have said the investigations could intimidate voters, particularly those of color, while perpetuating the false notion that voter fraud is a significant concern in U.S. elections.

The videos show at least some of the people arrested did not appear to have realized they were ineligible to cast a ballot.

"I thought...felons were able to vote," said Tony Patterson, described by the newspaper as a registered sex offender, as he was placed in handcuffs. "Why would y'all let me vote if I wasn't able to vote?"

Florida law requires that a defendant "willfully" commit voter fraud in order to be guilty of the crime.

In some cases, the defendants said they were not informed by local officials that they could not vote. Oliver, for instance, successfully registered to vote twice after her release from prison, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Another defendant, Nathan Hart, also described as a registered sex offender, told officers an employee at the motor vehicle department told him to fill out a registration form after learning he was off probation, and assured him that he wouldn't be allowed to vote if he were ineligible.

Reporting by Joseph Ax Editing by Peter Graff

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