This year, under the direction of Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida established a new Office of Election Crimes and Integrity. The office officially kicked off on July 1st and they obviously got into gear quickly. This month, DeSantis announced the arrests of twenty people who were alleged to have committed voter fraud. But questions have already been raised as to whether these were true cases of intentional voter fraud or simply people who were confused about various facets of the law and voted when they thought they could legally do so. The Miami Herald interviewed some of the accused, including 55-year-old Romona Oliver. Oliver has a criminal record and it’s not a minor one. She served a 20-year sentence for second-degree murder. After she was released in 2020, she’d heard about a new law that allowed some ex-felons to have their voting rights restored. She went down and registered to vote and nobody stopped her, despite the fact that she was asked if she had a felony conviction and she told them she did. She was registered as a Democrat and prepared for election day.
In the 2020 presidential election, she voted. It was the first time Oliver, 55, ever did.
“It was exciting for me because I felt like after all that time, I want to get out and try to do the right thing,” she said. “Give back to the community.”
On Thursday morning, Oliver was arrested on a charge of voting as an unqualified elector and false affirmation. That afternoon, Gov. Ron DeSantis touted the arrests of 20 people, Oliver included, who had voted despite having a felony conviction for murder or a sex offense. Those arrested spanned five different counties: Hillsborough, Orange, Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade.
Oliver was one of many who were detected voting with felonies on their record. Others on the recent list similarly had murder convictions in their past and one had done time for the sexual battery of a child. None should have been eligible to register or vote, but all were able to do so without anyone challenging them.
A spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections was asked how this could happen. She explained that the county elections office checks to see that the registration forms are filled out correctly. They then submit them to the state for review. But, she added, “It’s not our role to verify the information.”
There are other aspects to current Florida voting laws that have created a situation that one judge described as “an administrative nightmare.” The law allowing some felons to have their voting rights restored includes provisions saying that all fees and financial penalties must be fully paid off by the felon before they can regain their right to vote. But the state has no centralized system to monitor the payment of such fees so neither the felons nor the workers at the county election offices can easily check to make sure they are fully in compliance.
There’s an old saying which informs us that ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse.’ And that’s true. All of these people technically committed voter fraud. There is a certain amount of intentional voter fraud that goes on in virtually every election. Anyone who was in New York’s 22nd Congressional District in 2020 could tell you that with certainty. The congressional race there saw three people arrested for knowingly casting an absentee ballot in the names of dead relatives. Dozens of people either voted or attempted to vote in person after already having voted by mail.
But those people, at least in most cases, knew they were breaking the law. It seems as if a different standard could be applied with a bit of compassion for these fraudulent voters in Florida. They didn’t try to use false ballots or the names of dead people. By going down to the appropriate office and registering they clearly appeared to at least be making the effort to follow the rules. And when they received their voter registration card in the mail, why would they question it?
Nobody should be asking Florida to simply ignore voter fraud when it’s discovered. But it seems like the Florida legislature owes it to the state’s citizens to clean up and clarify those laws and ensure that a system is in place to prevent people from inadvertently committing a crime.