TAMPA, Fla. — Charges against a man accused by Governor Ron DeSantis of committing voter fraud were dropped by prosecutors on Monday.
Tony Patterson, 44, was one of the 20 people Gov. DeSantis alleged voted illegally in the 2020 election. He was taken into custody and charged with "election voting by unqualified voter" and "false swearing."
A court filing on Monday said that, due to information provided by the Hillsborough County elections supervisor and a prison sentence from a separate case, prosecutors were dropping the charges.
Body cam footage from August made headlines a few months earlier when those arrested appeared confused about what they were even being arrested for.
All 20 people who were arrested for illegally voting in Florida had past felony convictions.
That's because according to our state's fourth amendment —which was updated in 2019— people with specific felony convictions can't have their voting rights restored unless they appeal to the state's clemency board.
But Mark Rankin, attorney of one of the 20 arrested, said that his client didn't know she was barred from voting when she registered for a state-approved Voter ID and later voted in the election.
"You know she was told twice by the supervisor of elections or the state that she was eligible. She was sent a voter registration card on two different occasions and wasn't taken off the voter rolls until Spring of 2022," he said, "She didn't understand why she was being arrested that day."
But state senator Jeff Brandes—who led the 2018-2019 push to amend our state constitution and restore voting rights to many with felony convictions—said this was never the intention of that law.
"In the legislation, we said that we understood that there was going to be some confusion and that the only people that should be prosecuted were those who did it willfully," he said.
Brandes said that he wouldn't be surprised if the charges are reduced because it may be tricky to prove "willful intent" in several of these cases, and he added that the state should focus on educating people to avoid any confusion.
"Let's notify first and prosecute last," Brandes said.
And when it comes to verifying whether or not someone is eligible to vote, the folks at the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) said there's technology out there that can help make the process faster in Florida.
"If we could get an immediate verification process like other states have, in which we can know immediately whether they are or eligible, then we could save so much time and angst," said the FRRC Deputy Director Neil Volz.
The civil rights advocacy group has a call center that you can use to help get answers about voter eligibility in real-time.
"You can talk to somebody who can help provide some more clarity and get connected with an attorney who provides more clarity," he said.
You can call the hotline at 1-877-698-6830.