The pattern is unmistakable: Cases from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ election crimes office keep ending up in court, and as The Miami Herald reported, they keep collapsing.
A Miami judge has tossed out another voter fraud case brought by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ elections police, the third case to fall apart since the governor announced the arrests. On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Laura Anne Stuzin reached the same conclusion as another Miami judge did in a different voter’s case, saying that statewide prosecutors didn’t have the ability to bring charges against Ronald Lee Miller.
For those who might benefit from a fresher, let’s 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 roughly 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’d 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 a Floridian accused by DeSantis’ election fraud force. A month later, prosecutors in Tampa dropped the case against another defendant. This week, a judge threw out a third case.
In fairness, it’s worth emphasizing that the governor’s operation did accept a plea nearly two weeks ago from another one of the defendants, 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,” in large part because the law requires the state to prove that the suspects intended to commit fraud, which is a bar prosecutors would likely struggle to clear.
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.