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2 DeSantis election fraud cases end with guilty pleas in Hillsborough

Both men received six months of probation. Their attorneys called the prosecutions political.
 
Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference last year at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, where he announced voter fraud arrests across the state.
Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference last year at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, where he announced voter fraud arrests across the state. [ AMY BETH BENNETT | South Florida Sun Sentinel ]
Published March 29|Updated March 29

TAMPA — Two Hillsborough County residents who were part of a statewide sweep billed as an effort to combat voter fraud pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony charges and received six months of probation.

Hubert Jack and Michael Anderson each admitted to charges of voting by an unqualified elector, stemming from their participation in the 2020 election, despite prior convictions that made them ineligible to vote. Jack also pleaded guilty to a charge of false swearing.

The pair were included in a string of arrests made last summer by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new election security force. Those arrested were accused of having illegally voted, as they had prior homicide or sex offense convictions.

Attorneys for Jack and Anderson both characterized the cases as political prosecutions.

“This was a glorified waste of time and money and limited resources in the law enforcement community, all to make a political point,” said attorney Stephen Crawford, who represented Jack.

“It’s pretty clear this was not about punishing a crime, as it was a political stunt,” said attorney Shelton Bridges, who represented Anderson.

Both attorneys said their clients believed they were allowed to vote.

Before the 2020 election, Crawford said, Jack encountered a group that was registering people to vote. Jack, who had a prior conviction for sexual battery, was told, incorrectly, that Amendment 4 restored voting rights to all felons, his attorney said. The amendment did not restore voting rights to those convicted of homicide or sexual battery.

“He was told wrong,” Crawford said.

Jack signed a form attesting that he was eligible to vote. He was later given a voting card and a letter of congratulations from the supervisor of elections, his attorney said. No one challenged his eligibility.

In Anderson’s case, his efforts to register to vote occurred as he was trying to obtain clemency for a sex offense conviction from more than 20 years ago. He went to “extraordinary lengths” to verify that he was eligible to vote, including contacting people in Tallahassee, and the local supervisor of elections office, his attorney said.

“They assured him, yes, you’re eligible,” Bridges said.

The Department of State is required to notify and remove ineligible voters from the rolls, a task they’ve struggled to complete.

Although the men could have taken their cases to trial, their attorneys said each determined it was in their best interest to plead guilty. Bridges said he felt that Anderson had a strong case, but noted that he risked potential prison time if a jury found him guilty.

“Sadly, I think it’s made him lose a lot of faith in the institutions and in the judicial system,” Bridges said.

Both men can potentially end their probation after three months if they accumulate no violations.

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At least 20 people statewide were arrested in the election crimes sweep last August, including seven in Hillsborough County.

DeSantis, who faced political pressure from the right over his refusal to audit the 2020 election, summoned the Legislature to create the Office of Election Crimes and Security. The voter fraud arrests were the office’s first.

Police body camera videos showed people who were confused and angry when officers told them they’d been accused of fraudulent voting.

The cases are being handled by the Office of Statewide Prosecution. They have seen varying outcomes in court. Charges were dropped in one Hillsborough case. A few others remain pending.

Another case saw the defendant, Nathan Hart, demand a trial. A jury that heard Hart’s case in February issued a split verdict, finding him guilty of false affirmation, but not guilty of voting as an unqualified elector. He received two years of probation.