Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that state officials have criminally charged 20 people for voting while ineligible during the 2020 general election. The alleged fraudsters are now being arrested, DeSantis said, the highest-profile move yet by the newly minted Florida office tasked with policing voting.
Flaunting the Office of Election Crimes and Security, rolled out in early July, DeSantis said during a press conference that the individuals were convicted of murder or felony sex offenses, which by Florida law stripped them of their right to vote.
"Yet they went ahead and voted anyways. That is against the law, and now they're going to pay the price for it," DeSantis said at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.
The announcement comes just days before the state's primary election on Aug. 23. Some voting rights groups have spoken out against the introduction of the new voting office, suggesting it might intimidate voters and slow turnout at the polls.
DeSantis said the "real protections for voter integrity" will be "live" on the ballot on Aug. 23, when voters hit the polls to cast their ballots in Florida's primary election.
"Our new election crimes office has sprung into action to hold individuals accountable for voter fraud. Today's actions send a clear signal to those who are thinking about ballot harvesting or fraudulently voting. If you commit an elections crime, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," he said.
Those charged now face third-degree felonies, up to a $5,000 fine and a maximum of 5 years in prison.
DeSantis said during the press conference that some local prosecutors might be slow to uptake and litigate election crimes. But now, with the election policing unit, Attorney General Ashley Moody and the state office, which was approved earlier this year by the GOP-controlled legislature, can bring the cases directly.
"As elected leaders, it is incumbent on us to ensure free and fair elections and instill confidence in the voting process," Moody said at the press conference on Thursday.
"No voting system can stand without the backing and confidence of the people it serves, and thanks to Governor DeSantis, we are reinforcing that trust, and Florida's elections system will serve as the standard-bearer for the rest of the nation."
Moody was also present at a press conference held by DeSantis earlier this month when the governor announced the suspension of Warren, who said he would not prosecute abortion crimes.
Warren announced on Wednesday that he's suing the governor, claiming his removal from office violated his First Amendment rights. Warren called his suspension "political theater" on the part of DeSantis, who has long been seen as a potential contender for the White House in 2024.
On Sunday, DeSantis traveled to Arizona to speak at a Turning Point USA conference in support of Donald Trump-backed Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters and GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake. He visited Carlsbad, New Mexico earlier in the day– both appearances part of a larger tour of battleground states ahead of a hotly contested midterm cycle. DeSantis will resume a national rally tour on Friday in Pennsylvania.
DeSantis also said on Thursday that his Office of Elections Integrity and Security is looking into other classes of fraud and is slated to pursue people who cast multiple ballots in the state, as well as "illegal aliens."
"There are investigations ongoing into people that have voted in two different jurisdictions. And I imagine you are going to see prosecutions on that," DeSantis said.
"We also have folks who are voting who are illegal aliens who are not citizens of the united states. And as we know in Florida's constitution, the only people eligible to vote are U.S. citizens and we think it's really important that we do that."
Democrat gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist called the press conference a "voter intimidation event."
"This is about playing politics, intimidating Democratic voters, and his desire to run for president, not securing elections," he said in a statement.
Crist's primary opponent, Nikki Fried, also fired back at DeSantis following his announcement.
"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," she said in a statement.