Florida continues a crackdown on election-related crime, announcing the arrests of two more individuals Wednesday on charges of casting illegal votes in last year’s election.
The Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security, created by legislation that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last April, announced the arrests of 20 convicted felons it said voted unlawfully in the 2020 general election.
The office referred another 70 individuals to law enforcement after they allegedly voting unlawfully in 2022.
On Feb. 2, DeSantis, a Republican, proposed a state budget that would provide $3.1 million and 27 positions to fully staff the election crimes office and provide more investigative resources. The governor’s budget proposal also would provide $1.2 million for live call center services supporting a hotline for voter fraud and assistance, cybersecurity awareness training for supervisors of elections, and a training program for signature verification durring elections.
As noted in my 2022 book, “The Myth of Voter Suppression,” Florida has a history of voter fraud cases, notably in mayoral races in 2017 and 1997.
The state has worked to improve election security since the 2000 standoff between presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore, which led to some recounts there. Florida also passed election reforms in 2021.
The state’s Department of Law Enforcement announced the arrest of Donna Prentes Brady, 66, of Ocala, Florida, on two counts of casting more than one ballot in an election. The offense is a third-degree felony in Florida.
Officials said Brady voted in the 2020 primary and general elections in both Florida and New Jersey. In both elections, they said, Brady voted in person in Marion County, Florida, and voted by mail in Sussex County, New Jersey.
Brady was arrested Monday and booked into the Marion County Jail, where she awaits trial.
Separately, the Department of Law Enforcement arrested Toye Ann La Rocca, 63, of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, on one count of falsely swearing to voter registration information and two counts of willful voting without being qualified. The offenses are third-degree felonies.
Authorities arrested La Rocca a week ago for allegedly voting in 2022 while on probation after a 2022 conviction for drunken driving. Since La Rocca is a convicted felon, she isn’t allowed to vote under state law until she completes her sentence.
La Rocca voted in person for the primary election in Okaloosa County, Florida, and voted by mail in the general election last year, authorities said.
Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputies arrested La Rocca and booked her in the Okaloosa County Jail, where she awaits trial.
A total of 20 people have been charged with election-related crimes since last August, when DeSantis established the Office of Election Crimes and Security.
“We are investigating election fraud. It does happen. It is real,” Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd told The Daily Signal in an interview last month. “We are sending that message to honest people, that you can trust your vote is being counted and not being diluted by a fraudulent vote, and telling the bad actors [that] we are going to hold you accountable.”
Florida’s election crimes office investigates and refers findings to the state Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Law Enforcement.
In January, the election crimes office issued its first annual report, which said a total of 1,094 individuals allegedly voted unlawfully in 2020 and another 70 allegedly voted unlawfully in the 2022 general election, according to the report.
The office announced the arrests of 20 individuals who previously were convicted of felony sex offenses or murder, alleging they unlawfully registered to vote and then voted in the 2020 general election.
“During the final months of 2022, with the help of the local State Attorney Offices in Escambia [County] and Duval County, law enforcement made four arrests based on additional OECS [Office of Election Crimes and Security] criminal referrals,” the office’s annual report says.
The OECS report cited several cases that the office referred to law enforcement.
These included an October 2022 arrest of an illegal immigrant, a 10-time convicted felon, who allegedly voted under an alias in Broward County. The individual allegedly registered to vote using a counterfeit birth certificate from New York City.
In November, authorities arrested and charged a Palm Beach County resident with voting in 2020 in both Florida and Alaska and doing the same in 2014, 2016, and 2018.
In December, law enforcement charged a Jackson County individual with misuse of voter information and fraudulent submissions related to petitions for a ballot question.
“Not to be overlooked, in addition to the examples listed here, throughout the 2022 calendar year the Department [of Law Enforcement] and the OECS received and reviewed 232 Election Fraud Complaints, handled hundreds of e-mails, as well as answered hundreds of phone calls made to the Voter Fraud Hotline,” the report says.
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