FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Fort Lauderdale at the Broward County Courthouse. In the lead-up to the event, the governor’s office had called it a “major announcement.” At the courthouse, event signage read “My Vote Counts” and “Election Integrity.” He announced 20 had been arrested on allegations of voter fraud.
Two previous events with similar “major announcement” notices were for the governor’s suspension of 13th District State Attorney Andrew Warren from office in Hillsborough County, and then later in West Palm Beach to appoint Judge Renatha Francis to the Florida Supreme Court.
This time, DeSantis’ announcement was focused on election integrity and voting, just days before the state’s primary elections finish. The Florida midterm election primaries are already in progress with early voting, with the official election date on Aug. 23.
The governor opened the event saying that Florida had one of the most secure elections in history, noting “many other states” that the governor said had “huge problems” during the 2020 election.
“We didn’t make any unconstitutional changes to election procedures,” DeSantis said. “We basically followed the law, the people, the voters were better for it, the transparency was better.” The governor said that while the election went more smoothly and voters were more confident in the results, “we still had work to do.”
In the past two legislative sessions, DeSantis said “We made very clear in the next legislative session after 2020, that this was going to be a priority” and that the state had done more than any other state in the country to make elections secure in Florida.
DeSantis noted changes to polling and absentee ballot processes, such as making ballot harvesting illegal, penalties to counties that didn’t update or clean their voter rolls every year, and banning “Zuckerbucks” in Florida.
“No one had really seen this before,” DeSantis said. “You had hundreds of millions of dollars go into the election in 2020, and instead of running ads or doing something like that, the money went directly to election offices.”
He said organizations had used the money to “bring in their people to effectively run the elections.”
The governor said new election rules meant nothing if the rules were not enforced, explaining the state’s creation of the Election Crimes and Security Office to oversee investigations of potential election or voter fraud.
“We want to make sure we have laws in place, and we want to make sure they’re enforced,” DeSantis said. The election law took effect on July 1, creating the office. “They got the money in the budget…when we did it, there were some naysayers saying ‘oh, what are they going to do, twiddle their thumbs?’ Well I’m here to say, they got in, Pete was named and immediately they went to work. They’re looking to hold people accountable who violated our election laws.”
DeSantis said the new election office had worked with local law enforcement. Then he said that 20 individuals across Florida had voted illegally, and were charged for voter fraud. The governor said the majority of them were in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties. He said there were others in other parts of the state.
“These folks voted illegally, in this case, and there’s going to be other grounds for other prosecutions in the future, and they are disqualified for voting because they’d been convicted of either murder or sexual assault, and they do not have the right to vote,” DeSantis said. “They have been disenfranchised under Florida law.”
DeSantis mentioned how Amendment 4, which had passed to allow former convicts to vote again, had an exemption for sexual assault and murder convictions. He said their rights to vote were not restored and they had therefore broken the law.
“That is against the law, and now they’re going to pay the price for it,” DeSantis said. “They will be charged, they are being charged today with election fraud. This is a third degree felony in the state of Florida, they could face a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison for illegally voting in our elections.”
He said going forward, the state would “rigorously” enforce its laws, and work to make sure the most recent election records, going back to 2020, would be preserved. Elections supervisors will be directed by the state to preserve the documentation until election investigations are complete. He said “we don’t want to be selective” about enforcing the laws. Investigations were ongoing about cases where illegal aliens had voted, as well as people who had voted in multiple jurisdictions.
“You also have other types of fraudulent activity, that, where people can be brought to justice,” DeSantis said, mentioning the Aug. 23 primary vote.
Attorney General Ashley Moody and new Secretary of State Cord Byrd spoke, followed by newly appointed Election Crimes and Security Office Director Peter Antonacci.
“It’s been well known in the political science community for a long time that we have had a problem with ineligible voters casting ballots in elections in this state,” Antonacci said. “And nothing has been done about it until now. And you may think that 20 voters isn’t a lot, but you’re in Broward County, and you know that you just elected a person to Congress this year with five votes. There are plenty of illegal ballots cast, and it is just awfully unfair to supporters of political candidates, to the candidates, and to the public at large that this sort of thing has been allowed to go on.”
Antonacci promised more investigative and enforcement actions until those undertaking illegal voting actions were held accountable and made to cease those efforts.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Acting Commissioner Mark Glass spoke after, saying that state law enforcement agents had begun arresting suspects for committing election crimes in the 2020 election in areas including Miami, Orlando, and Tampa Bay.
Glass said the FDLE had arrested criminals for election crimes who had been convicted of sexual assault or murder before voting.
“Today is not about these violent criminals,” Glass said. “Today is about hardworking, law abiding Floridians. Our message is simple. In Florida, your vote counts.”
He said the state would do everything in their power to make sure that those who cannot legally vote “never cast a ballot” and promised further investigations, then thanked those who had begun that process and who had been “working diligently” to secure Florida’s elections.
DeSantis returned to the podium, saying that there would be further prosecutions for illegal votes, and that investigations would be triggered by people voting in multiple locations, including new Florida residents voting in their previous homes in other states first.
“If other states are sending you ballots, just understand if you’re a Florida voter, you can choose to vote in a different state and choose to be a resident there, or you can choose to vote here and be a resident, but you can’t do both,” DeSantis said. “That’s going to end up coming, there are going to be people who are foreign nationals, we don’t think there are a lot, but we think there will be some. We want the federal government to work constructively with us on these investigations, and I would say so far that has not really been the case. I think there interests lie elsewhere.”
DeSantis said the interest in Florida was there, and that it was their duty to investigate to uphold the state’s laws and constitution. He promised that Florida would continue looking into election issues and ballot harvesting, before taking questions.
In response to a question on voting processes and the coming primary, Antonacci said they would remain engaged to ensure election integrity. DeSantis said he was confident there would be pending prosecutions in the near future for double voting violations. However, he said the cases won’t be rushed as they had to be pursued to the point of being “air tight.”
DeSantis addressed a question about his recent suspension of Warren in Hillsborough County.
“Obviously all of these constitutional officers have certain duties under the law, and they should just all be mindful of that, but there’s nothing specific we came, in terms of the Broward court, but I think we’ve shown that if there’s a basis to act, if laws are being ignored, or people are breaching duties, then under the Florida Constitution, the check is put in the Governor and the Florida Senate,” DeSantis said. “That’s what we did with the state attorney in the other side of the state, and that’s we’ve done here in the past with the sheriff and some other folks.”
DeSantis said he’d proposed the election crimes office because “people weren’t being prosecuted,” and that the announcement of 20 arrests was “just the opening salvo,” though noting that the elections in 2020 were handled well.
The individuals facing charges and allegations of committing voter fraud were not identified, nor were the votes they cast illegally characterized. It was not disclosed if they had voted for either former President Donald Trump or President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, or if the votes had been for more local or state-level elections.