If it seems as if cases from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ election crimes office keep collapsing in court, it’s not your imagination. The Associated Press reported over the holiday weekend on yet another case being thrown out.
Terry Hubbard, 63, was among 20 people arrested last August on criminal charges of illegal voting in 2020 in what was the first major action taken by the Republican’s controversial new Office of Election Crimes and Security. A judge in Broward County this week tossed out the case on the grounds that the Office of Statewide Prosecution does not have jurisdiction to prosecute since it can only prosecute crimes that occurred in two or more counties.
For those who might benefit from a refresher, let’s circle back to our earlier coverage and review how we arrived at this point.
DeSantis held a news conference in August, making what he seemed to think was an important announcement: The Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security — a well-funded office he created to pursue a problem that didn’t appear to exist in any meaningful way — had found 20 people who voted illegally in 2020.
The Florida Republican, surrounded by uniformed officers, assured the public that the suspects were in custody and would be prosecuted.
As regular readers may recall, DeSantis seemed pleased with himself. He had created an election crimes office and it uncovered election crimes, just like he said it would. His Aug. 18 news conference was a “mission accomplished” moment for the governor’s “election integrity” campaign.
Or so it seemed at the time. In October, a Miami judge tossed out a criminal case against Robert Lee Wood, a Floridian accused by DeSantis’ election fraud force. In November, prosecutors in Tampa dropped the case against another defendant, Tony Patterson. Earlier this month, a judge threw out a third case, this time against Ronald Lee Miller.
And now a fourth case — this time, against Terry Hubbard — has been tossed out of court.
In fairness, it’s worth emphasizing that the governor’s operation did recently accept a plea from another one of the defendants, Romona Oliver, and a local prosecutor boasted soon after that his office was pleased to secure a “felony conviction on illegal voting.”
That was a charitable spin on what transpired: Tampa resident Romona Oliver pleaded no contest and received no punishment whatsoever: no jail time, no probation and no financial penalties.
By any fair measure, these cases shouldn’t have even existed in the first place. Politico reported a week after the initial arrests that several of those taken away in handcuffs had been “notified by official government entities they were eligible to vote.”
Peter Washington, for example, after serving 10 years in prison, was told that he could vote after his release. After the Orange County Supervisor of Elections sent him a voter registration form, he completed the paperwork and was sent a voter card from local officials. Washington later cast what he thought to be a proper ballot — only to be arrested two years later.
He had plenty of company. In fact, The Tampa Bay Times highlighted Floridians who seemed utterly baffled as to why they were being taken away in handcuffs, insisting they had cast perfectly legal votes — not only because voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 2018, restoring voting rights to many felons, but also because they’d been explicitly told by officials that they could legally cast ballots.
It led The Miami Herald to report in August that the cases are “on shaky legal ground.” It led me, among many others, to suggest the entire ordeal — the creation of DeSantis’ election crimes office, the investigations, the arrests, the chest-thumping news conference, the legal proceedings, et al. — could end with a series of failed cases, which is what we’re seeing now.
The result is a pattern surrounding the GOP governor, to the extent that Republicans care to notice it: DeSantis has a habit of creating stunts and generating headlines that excite the right, only to have those same stunts unravel soon after.
The Floridian delighted his reactionary fans with the Martha’s Vineyard stunt, for example, before it became a meaningful scandal. The right also swooned over DeSantis’ “Stop WOKE Act,” right up until it was shredded in court.
And the arrests from the governor’s Office of Election Crimes and Security were billed as a meaningful partisan accomplishment for DeSantis, before resulting in a series of failed cases.
That said, the stunt wasn’t a total loss for the ambitious Republican: The arrests from DeSantis’ election office received plenty of coverage, which in turn created a chilling effect among Floridians who steered clear of ballot boxes, even if they were eligible to vote, because they feared unjust arrests.
In other words, if DeSantis’ goal was to discourage a specific group of constituents — most of whom are people of color — from participating in last year’s elections, this stunt was a success, even as the prosecutions collapse.