TALLAHASSEE — Faced with a barrage of legal challenges to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ voter fraud cases, the Florida Legislature on Friday passed a bill to give him a leg up in court.
Senate Bill 4B clarifies that statewide prosecutors have the authority to bring voting and voter registration-related charges.
The legislation delved into an obscure part of state law, but one that posed a threat to one of DeSantis’ top political priorities.
The roughly 20 people who were arrested for voting in 2020 when they weren’t eligible — highlighted by DeSantis during a splashy news conference last year — were charged not by local prosecutors, but by the Office of Statewide Prosecution.
Statewide prosecutors, who report to Attorney General Ashley Moody, are restricted to charging people whose crimes cross multiple jurisdictions, such as someone selling drugs in multiple counties.
The state argued statewide prosecutors can bring voting-related cases because when a voter casts a ballot in a particular county, the ballot is ultimately sent to Tallahassee, making it a second district.
Two judges in Miami-Dade County and one in Broward County have disagreed, dismissing the charges. Statewide prosecutors have appealed.
“This ensures fraud will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, the way it should,” said the bill sponsor, Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami.
Each of the roughly 20 people were ineligible to vote because they had murders or felony sex offenses on their criminal records. The state cleared them to join the voter rolls anyway, and they were issued voter ID cards by their local supervisors. Many have said they assumed they could vote.
Democratic lawmakers accused lawmakers of “manipulating” the legal process. Some state attorneys have declined to press charges against people simply for voting when they weren’t eligible.
“This administration only seeks to snatch these cases from the hands of state attorneys,” said Rep. Yvonne Hinson, D-Gainesville. “Stop the madness.”
For the three people whose cases have been dismissed by judges, the law will allow statewide prosecutors to continue pursuing charges against them, according to a spokesperson for Attorney General Ashley Moody, who oversees the statewide prosecutor.
Attorney Robert Barrar, who successfully argued that statewide prosecutors couldn’t bring charges against his client, Ronald Lee Miller, said this week’s bill showed he was right.
“If they think they need to pass a new statute that gives them jurisdiction, obviously I was right,” Barrar said.
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House lawmakers passed the bill 77-33 on Friday. The bill passed the Senate on Wednesday on party lines and now heads to DeSantis’ desk.
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