The above video is from previous coverage, not from recent events.
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In addition to stripping Disney of its special status and expanding immigration relocation efforts, Florida lawmakers are expected to give more power to the statewide prosecutor in cases involving election crimes.
Legislators are expected to pass House Bill 3B during February’s special legislative session.
The Office of Election Crimes and Security, which formed in 2022, is focused on investigating allegations of voter fraud and ensuring election integrity. Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis said 20 people were arrested for alleged voter fraud in a crackdown led by his election-crimes unit.
Body camera video taken of the suspects showed there was much confusion surrounding their arrests. County elections supervisors had said the individuals were eligible to vote, despite the nature of their previous convictions.
Florida law allows convicted felons to vote, barring specific crimes of a violent and/or sexual nature.
It is the legal responsibility of the Florida Dept. of State to update voter rolls accordingly and transmit that information to elections supervisors. In the cases outlined on Aug. 18, 2022, there were multiple instances of this procedure not happening in time to prevent the individuals from voting, as admitted in letters from former head of the Office of Election Crimes and Security Peter Antonacci.
The statutes in Florida also require that a conviction come from a willing commission of a crime. The body cam footage showed those charged were unaware they were breaking the law, and were therefore not willingly committing those crimes.
According to the proposed legislation, “three cases have been dismissed on the grounds that OSP lacked jurisdiction to prosecute such cases because the act of making a false affirmation on a voter registration form and voting while ineligible occurred in a single county, not in multiple judicial circuits or connected with an organized criminal conspiracy affecting two or more judicial circuits.”
In the three dismissed cases, “each court found that the act of transferring the voter registration information and voted ballot to another judicial circuit were ministerial activities performed by the government, not by one of the defendants, and the act of transferring such registration and ballot to another judicial circuit were not part of the criminal act with which the defendants were charged. Thus, there was neither a “related transaction” nor a criminal conspiracy, as required [by law].”
The bill being looked at in the special session would give the statewide prosecutor the ability to act when election crimes are occurring, have occurred, or have been committed in two or more judicial circuits.
The crimes are defined as “any attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit any of the crimes specifically enumerated.” This includes running for state or federal office, petitioning for ballot initiatives, as well as voting on either item in an election.
To prevent this option for dismissal, HB 3B amends state statutes to make it so the statewide prosecutor has “jurisdiction by deleting the current statutory requirement that such a crime be connected with an organized criminal conspiracy that affects two or more judicial circuits, and simply requires the crime to have affected two or more judicial circuits.”
It’s also worth noting that the 20 individuals highlighted by state officials and the governor as examples of voter fraud cases did not include any of the four individuals who illegally voted multiple times in the 2020 election and were residents of The Villages.
Court documents show that the four individuals pleaded guilty to the charges. Of the four, three were given pre-trial diversions, with an 18-month deferral period for prosecution and a community service fine. They were also required to complete civics classes.
Those defendants, Joan Halstead, Charles Franklin Barnes, and Jay Ketcik were given the possibility of permanent deferral of prosecution if the court-ordered requirements were fulfilled. John Rider, the fourth resident, was also selected for pre-trial diversion and was required to complete 50 hours of community service.