DeSantis announces 20 felons charged with voter fraud across Florida

Zac Anderson

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced voting fraud charges Thursday against 20 individuals in the first major action of his controversial election security office.

The charges were unveiled during a press conference in Broward County, Florida's most heavily-Democratic county, during an event billed as a "major announcement" that was derided by Democrats as a "voter intimidation" effort. 

"This is something we take very seriously as a state," DeSantis said in lauding the work of his new Office of Election Crimes and Security that was part of legislation he pushed.

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The voters being charged with fraud are residents of Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Orange counties.

Those targeted are felons convicted of murder or sex offenses who voted in 2020 but were ineligible. Two years earlier, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment restoring felons voting rights after they served their sentences and paid all fines, fees and restitution.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new elections law that creates a new security force to investigate claims of voter fraud.

Certain offenses were excluded from automatic rights restoration, though. The 20 voters targeted committed offenses that precluded automatic voting rights restoration. They are being charged with third-degree felonies and face up to five years in prison.

"They did not go through a process, they did not get their rights restored, and yet they went ahead and voted anyway," DeSantis said.

Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who sponsored tlegislation implementing the felon voting rights amendment, commented on DeSantis' voter fraud prosecutions on Twitter, saying the intent of those who voted despite being ineligible matters.

"As the author of the bill implementing amend 4 it was our intent that those ineligible would be granted some grace by the state if they registered without intent to commit voter fraud," Brandes said on Twitter. "Some of the individuals did check with (local election officials) and believed they could register. "

DeSantis has dodged questions about whether he believes former President Donald Trump's unfounded claims of massive voting fraud in the 2020 election, but under pressure from Trump supporters DeSantis pushed through a pair of bills over the last two years making changes to Florida's election laws.

One of those bills established a controversial new election security force. Democrats opposed the legislation over concerns that the office will be politicized to target left-leaning voters.

Trump and his team of attorneys filed more than 60 lawsuits in courts around the country claiming fraud or manipulation of voting systems in the 2020 election. All failed because judges ruled that Trump’s legal team and backers didn’t prove any such allegations.

The charges announced Thursday by DeSantis are the first investigations conducted by the election security force, which launched on July 1.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who are running in the Democratic primary for governor, both called DeSantis press conference a "voter intimidation" effort.

"Ron DeSantis went to Broward County today for one reason and one reason only — to intimidate voters and suppress turnout in the most Democratic counties in Florida," Fried said.

"Everybody wants elections to be secure," Fried continued. "But Ron DeSantis — who has never refuted Donald Trump's Big Lie — is the last person we can trust with 'election police.' As governor, I will disband this force and return jurisdiction back to local authorities."

Charlie Crist, who is running against Fried, blasted DeSantis for his actions. “This is about playing politics, intimidating Democratic voters, and his desire to run for president, not securing elections,” he said.

Voting rights advocacy groups echoed Fried’s criticism, saying the governor is trying to “intimidate” voters with his actions and his elections police.

“This confirms what we’ve feared about Florida’s Office of Election Crimes and Security: it will be used to sow doubt in the minds of millions of Floridians about whether their vote truly counts,” said All Voting is Local Action’s Florida state director Brad Ashwell.

Approximately 11 million people voted in the 2020 presidential election in Florida and Trump carried the state by 372,000 votes.

The charges against 20 alleged illegal voters announced Thursday represent a tiny fraction of Florida's 2020 presidential vote.

"This is the opening salvo, this is not the sum total of 2020," DeSantis said, promising more prosecutions. "Now I do think we did do a good job."

DeSantis noted later in the press conference that "most elections are going to be outside the margin where some of this stuff is going to matter."

Regardless, investigations are ongoing into possible fraud during the 2020 election, DeSantis said.

The governor said election officials in all 67 Florida counties are being notified to preserve records from the 2020 election.

"They need to make sure to preserve all the documentation until all these investigations are complete," DeSantis said.

Follow Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at