(NewsNation) — Body camera footage taken by local police officers in Florida shows authorities arresting baffled felons for allegedly illegally casting a ballot in the 2020 elections, as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ purported crackdown on voter fraud.
The body camera footage became public after it was obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through a public records act request. The footage shows 19 people being handcuffed as they plead for answers from officers.
The group is accused of voting illegally in the 2020 election because they had previously been convicted of murder or sex offenses, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. While a Florida constitutional amendment restored some felons’ rights to vote in Florida, it did not include that group.
DeSantis previously announced the arrests in August.
“They did not go through any process. They did not get their rights restored, and yet they went ahead and voted anyway,” DeSantis said at the time. “That is against the law and they will pay the price for it.”
Some of the suspects seemed confused during their arrests — claiming voting groups encouraged them to register to vote.
“Why would you all let me vote if I wasn’t able to vote?” one of the arrestees says in the video. “And why now? This happened years ago.”
State law does say the voters had to “willfully” commit the crime, so it’s possible if voter groups told them they were allowed to vote and they were just following their advice, they could ultimately be off the hook. It will be up to prosecutors to decide whether to drop the charges.
One of the residents arrested, Nathan Hart, explains to officers in the video how he ended up registered and voting illegally. Hart, a registered sex offender, says he was encouraged to sign up to vote by somebody at the DMV.
“I said, ‘I’m a convicted felon, I’m pretty sure I can’t,'” Hart says on the video. “He goes, ‘Well, are you still on probation?'”
Hart told the worker he got off probation a month earlier.
“He said, ‘Well, just fill out this form, and if they let you vote, then you can,'” Hart said. “‘If they don’t, then you can’t.'”
One of the officers seemed to sympathize, telling Hart, “Then there’s your defense. … That sounds like a loophole to me.”
In Lake County, prosecutors declined to file charges in six cases against sex offenders who voted in 2020 because the willfulness standard could not be met.
“In all of the instances where sex offenders voted, each appears to have been encouraged to vote by various mailings and misinformation,” prosecutor Jonathan Olson wrote. “Each (was) given voter registration cards, which would lead one to believe they could legally vote in the election. The evidence fails to show willful actions on the part of these individuals.”