MIAMI, Fla. (WFLA) — A Miami judge dismissed a man’s voter fraud charges after he and 19 other previously convicted felons were publicly accused of voting illegally in the 2020 election by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
According to a report from NBC Miami, Judge Milton Hirsch dismissed the case, saying the statewide prosecutor did not have jurisdiction to try the Miami case.
The prosecutor reportedly tried to argue that since the ballot travelled from one judicial circuit to another after it was cast – moving from Miami to Tallahassee – the alleged offense fit the criteria to be tried by the Attorney General’s office.
NBC Miami reported that Robert Lee Wood was originally charged with making a false affirmation on his voter application and voting as an unqualified elector, facing up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The 20 alleged voter fraud arrests were announced in an event headlined by Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale in August. DeSantis said it was just the beginning and called it an “opening salvo” for his administration’s voter fraud initiative.
The move was criticized by Florida Democrats and voting rights activists and criminal justice advocates, who called the arrests a publicity stunt. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition – which advocates for re-enfranchisement of felons after they’ve served their time – issued the following statement after Friday’s ruling.
“This strengthens our resolve to continue to place people over politics and honor the commitment we made to the 1.4 million people impacted by Amendment 4, who should be enjoying the opportunity to fully participate in our democracy. The decision is a step in the right direction in our continuing fight for election integrity and Florida’s returning citizens.”Neil Volz, Deputy Director, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition
The 20 individuals named by DeSantis for voter fraud arrests were all previously convicted felons. A 2018 ballot measure was approved by Florida voters, letting felons vote once they’ve paid their restitution, served their time, and paid court fees with two exceptions.
Those convicted of sexual assault and murder are barred from enfranchisement, even after completing their sentences and paying their restitution and court fees.
Those arrested in August were all convicted of sexual assault or murder, but were told they could vote by county elections supervisors. The state and counties pointed fingers at each other when asked who exactly was to blame for allowing the former felons to register to vote.
In September, several county election supervisors said it was up to the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections to determine if a voter is eligible, and to send that information to elections offices to update voter rolls.
“They’re the ones that are registering people,” DeSantis responded. “You go in your county and you register locally. You’re not registering in Tallahassee at the state government. And so it’s really their responsibility to ensure that their voting rolls are accurate.”
According to supervisors in Pinellas and Polk counties who spoke with News Channel 8, the Department of State did not complete this duty. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement spoke with News Channel 8 as well, describing the process of verifying voter information.
“Each day, Florida Department of State (DOS) provides FDLE a list of new or updated voter registrations which is checked for matches to known convicted felons in the state criminal history repository,” FDLE Public Information Officer Gretl Plessinger previously told News Channel 8. “FDLE provides the list of potential matches to DOS. FDLE does not determine eligibility.”
Instead, the supervisors pointed to letters sent by the state the same day DeSantis announced the 20 arrests, Aug. 18, saying the records that showed the convicted felons were on the voter rolls despite lack of qualification was “no fault of your own,” and that the felons had voted illegally.
There’s no word yet on if statewide prosecutor will appeal the Miami judge’s ruling.