Florida man’s voter fraud charges dismissed in blow to DeSantis

By Joseph Axe

NEW YORK (Reuters) – One of the 20 people arrested for allegedly voting illegally as part of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ crackdown on voter fraud had his charges dismissed on Friday.

A Miami state judge dismissed the case against Robert Lee Wood, ruling that the state attorney general, who is overseeing all 20 cases, had no jurisdiction because the alleged crime did not occur in at least two jurisdictions.

The decision could pave the way for similar results in some or all of the other cases, though local prosecutors could still choose to reinstate the charges. Statewide Attorney General Nick Cox said his office would appeal the ruling.

DeSantis, a Republican running for re-election as governor on Nov. 8 and widely believed to be weighing a 2024 presidential campaign, hailed the August arrests as the “first salvo” from his newly created Office of Election Crimes and Security. .

The agency, which includes state law enforcement officers, was established amid a nationwide push by Republicans to tighten voting laws in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged.

Civil rights groups have said the office could intimidate voters while undermining public faith in elections. Election fraud in the United States is extremely rare, studies have shown. Florida’s 2020 election produced 11 million ballots.

Friday’s ruling came two days after the Tampa Bay Times published police body camera footage taken during the arrests that showed several defendants appearing confused by the charges.

All 20 are former inmates convicted of murder or serious sex crime. A 2018 constitutional amendment restored voting rights to many ex-convicts, but specifically excluded people who committed those offenses.

In the videos, several defendants said they had been allowed to vote by election officials and did not understand why they were being arrested. Under state law, voter fraud requires intent.

In Wood’s case, prosecutors argued that his ballot, cast in Miami, was eventually sent to Tallahassee to be counted, thus satisfying the requirement that the crime take place in two separate locations.

But Judge Milton Hirsch agreed with Wood’s defense attorney that Wood had nothing to do with transferring ballots from one place to another.

“Here, all the criminal wrongdoing, if any, was done by one man in one county,” the judge wrote in his order.

Wood’s attorney, Larry Davis, said prosecutors should drop the case. Wood registered to vote after being told he was allowed, received a voter card and cast a ballot, all without objection, Davis said.

“There’s no way he would have done that without being told it was OK,” Davis said in a phone interview. “My client had absolutely no intention of breaking the law.”

DeSantis’ office did not immediately comment Friday.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Daniel Wallis)

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