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Man arrested by DeSantis election police has his case dropped

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One of 20 people arrested by Florida’s new Election Police this summer had his charges dismissed on Friday, in the first case to be resolved since Gov. Ron DeSantis launched his aggressive voter fraud initiative.

Robert Lee Wood was arrested on August 18 and charged with two counts of voter fraud because he was convicted of a felony in 1990 and his rights were not restored before voting. On Friday, a Miami judge dismissed the case, ruling that the state’s attorney lacked jurisdiction.

The governor announced that he would appeal.

In recent months, DeSantis (R) has pledged to carefully consider who can vote. Earlier this year, Florida’s GOP-led legislature created an Office of Election Crimes and Security at the request of the governor.

DeSantis said the office would help prevent illegal voting, although there were few cases of voter fraud prosecuted before this summer. Critics have warned that the governor and his election police unit could weaponize their new powers for political purposes.

At a press conference in August, DeSantis announced the office’s first arrests — mostly of black men who had recently voted. If found guilty, they could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. All those arrested had previous convictions for murder or a sexual offence. Florida voters in 2018 approved an amendment that allows former felons to register to vote unless convicted of those crimes.

Many of the 20 people arrested in the August 18 crackdown said they believed they had the right to vote and had been encouraged to register by local authorities. Their registrations were approved by the state Division of Elections and county election supervisors issued them with voter identification numbers and cards.

“The state has approved his voter’s registration and issued him a voter identification card,” Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael Gottlieb wrote in a motion this month to dismiss another case related to the accusations of electoral fraud. “He voted under the authority granted to him by the government, and now that same body is seeking to incarcerate him for the very act they approved of and encouraged him to take.”

Body camera videos released this week by officers who made some of the arrests – which took place in five counties in just hours the morning of DeSantis’ August press conference – show the confusion and concern among those arrested, as well as among some of the officers.

Gottlieb, who worked on Woods’ case and also represents another man arrested the same day, said that while the state can appeal the decision of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch, the dismissal is a good sign.

“I will definitely use it as wind in my sails,” Gottlieb said.

DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin said the state will continue to pursue business with its office of election integrity.

“The state will continue to enforce the law and ensure that murderers and rapists who are not allowed to vote do not do so illegally,” he said. “Florida will not be a state in which elections are left vulnerable or cheaters are left irresponsible.”

Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, applauded the dismissal of the case against Wood.

“This reinforces our resolve to continue to put people above politics and to honor the commitment we made to the 1.4 million people affected by Amendment 4, who should take advantage of the opportunity to participate fully in our democracy,” Volz said in a statement.

Larry Davis, an attorney for Woods, said his client was “very happy and relieved” that the charges were dismissed.

washingtonpost

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