After the 2020 elections, Florida Republicans had reason to boast. Not only did GOP candidates excel in the Sunshine State up and down the ballot, but the state's system of elections worked exactly as intended, even during the pandemic.
But as we've discussed, as Republicans started embracing Donald Trump's Big Lie, and GOP officials sought ways to place new hurdles between voters and their democracy, Florida Republicans approved a series of new voter-suppression measures last spring.
They were not subtle: Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law new policies making it harder to use ballot drop boxes, creating new powers for partisan poll watchers, and making vote-by-mail more difficult.
Not surprisingly, a lawsuit from voting-rights advocates soon followed.
As Politico reported overnight, lawyers defending the state's new voting restrictions are trying to justify the laws in a new and amazing way.
Attorneys representing national Republican groups are using the arrest of a Donald Trump supporter and alleged voter fraud in one of Florida's biggest GOP strongholds to defend a controversial election bill pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Lawyers working for the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee late last week asked a judge overseeing a legal challenge to the controversial Florida voting law to take notice of three incidents of voter fraud that had surfaced in Florida over the last two years.
Yes, we've apparently reached the point at which Republicans are arguing that new voting restrictions are justified because their own party's voters have tried to cheat.
In this instance, Republicans pointed to a handful of voters facing criminal charges for fraud, including a trio of voters at The Villages, a central Florida retirement community known as a Republican stronghold.
"Fraud is fraud, no matter who commits it or what party they prefer," the National Republican Senatorial Committee's Chris Hartline told Politico.
That may sound like a welcome, principled approach, but in this context, it's not nearly as constructive as GOP officials might hope.
As we've discussed more than once, I've long feared this exact scenario. "See?" Republicans say in response to rare examples of election crimes. "Voter fraud is real, so sweeping new voter-suppression laws are justified."
But that remains the wrong response. What these reports actually show is that when would-be criminals try to circumvent the law, the existing system is strong enough to catch them and hold them legally accountable. The trio at The Villages would've been charged whether Florida's new voting restrictions were approved or not.
The criminal charges don't prove the need for more voter-suppression measures; they help prove the opposite. The laws that existed before 2021 were already strong enough to catch those willing to cheat.