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Florida police body-cam footage shows confused ex-felons arrested for voter fraud in DeSantis crackdown

Local and special Florida state police arrested 20 Hillsborough County residents for alleged voter fraud on Aug. 18, and police  body-camera footage released by the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday shows the confusion and anger of the former felons who say state election workers told them they could legally cast their ballots in 2020. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) touted the arrests at a news conference hours later. "They're going to pay the price," he said.

Of the 20 people arrested, 12 were registered as Democrats and at least 13 are Black, the Times reports. A 2018 state constitutional amendment restored the voting rights of most former felons, but not those convicted of sex offenses or murder. "The amendment and subsequent actions by state lawmakers caused mass confusion about who was eligible," the Times adds, "and the state's voter registration forms offer no clarity."

The former felons arrested in Hillsborough County by DeSantis' new Office of Election Crimes and Security face up to five years in prison. Prosecutors in other counties have dropped charges against sex offenders who served their sentences because the law requires proof the voter "willfully" broke the law by registering to vote or casting a ballot. 

John Dickerson at CBS News also noted that a handful of people in Florida's heavily Republican retirement mecca The Villages got slaps on the wrist for double-voting, and election law expert David Becker said the "very questionable" timing of the arrests — two years after the election and a week before Florida's primary election — was "deeply" troubling to Florida county election officials he spoke with. 

One of the people in the video, Romona Oliver, 55, registered to vote in February 2020, then updated her address in August 2020, and "she was given a voter ID card both times by Florida's Department of State, which reports to DeSantis and handles the voter rolls," CBS News reports. "Mrs. Oliver is not guilty and looks forward to her day in court," said her lawyer, Mark Rankin. "There is no room for political theater in the criminal justice system."

Another ex-felon arrested in the Aug. 18 sweep, Tony Patterson, 43, wasn't released until Aug. 23, CBS News reports. "Another record shows he was arrested again nearly one month later, Sept. 15, for driving without a valid license. It shows he is currently in jail."