Prosecutors drop case against man caught up in DeSantis stunt

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference in August, making what he seemed to think was an important announcement: The Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security — a well-funded office he created to pursue a problem that didn’t appear to exist in any meaningful way — had found roughly 20 people who voted illegally in 2020.

The Florida Republican, surrounded by uniformed officers, assured the public that the suspects were in custody and would be prosecuted.

As regular readers may recall, DeSantis seemed pleased with himself. He’d created an election crimes office and it uncovered election crimes, just like he said it would. His Aug. 18 news conference was a “mission accomplished” moment for the governor’s “election integrity” campaign.

Or so it seemed at the time. The Tampa Bay Times reported yesterday:

Statewide prosecutors have dropped charges against one of the 20 people accused by Gov. Ron DeSantis of voting illegally in 2020. In a court filing Monday, prosecutors wrote that they were dropping charges against Tampa resident Tony Patterson, 44, because of “information received” from the Hillsborough County elections supervisor and because he was already being sentenced to prison in a separate case.

A month ago today, a Miami judge tossed out a criminal case against a different Floridian also accused by DeSantis’ election fraud force. The case against Patterson in Tampa might also have been thrown out, but prosecutors saved themselves some embarrassment by simply dropping the charges.

Patterson, upon being taken into custody over the summer, asked the officers as was escorted to a police car in handcuffs, “What is wrong with this state, man?”

Three months later, it’s still not a rhetorical question.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, problems with DeSantis’ initiative emerged fairly soon after its launch. Politico reported a week after the arrests that several of those taken away in handcuffs had been “notified by official government entities they were eligible to vote.”

Peter Washington, for example, after serving 10 years in prison, was told that he could vote after his release. After the Orange County Supervisor of Elections sent him a voter registration form, he completed the paperwork and was sent a voter card from local officials. Washington later cast what he thought to be a proper ballot — only to be arrested two years later.

He had plenty of company. In fact, The Tampa Bay Times highlighted Floridians who seemed utterly baffled as to why they were being taken away in handcuffs, insisting they had cast perfectly legal votes — not only because voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 2018, restoring voting rights to many felons, but also because they’d been explicitly told by officials that they could legally cast ballots.

It led The Miami Herald to report in August that the cases are “on shaky legal ground,” in large part because the law requires the state to prove that the suspects intended to commit fraud, which is a bar prosecutors will likely struggle to clear.

It led me, among many others, to suggest the entire ordeal — the creation of DeSantis’ election crimes office, the investigations, the arrests, the chest-thumping news conference, the legal proceedings, et al. — could end with the charges being dropped, which is exactly what happened yesterday, and probably not for the last time.

Stepping back, there’s a pattern surrounding the GOP governor, to the extent that Republicans care to notice it: DeSantis has a habit of creating stunts and generating headlines that excite the right, only to have those same stunts unravel soon after.

The Floridian delighted his reactionary fans with the Martha’s Vineyard stunt, for example, before it became a meaningful scandal. The right also swooned over DeSantis’ “Stop WOKE Act,” right up until it was shredded in court.

And the arrests from the governor’s Office of Election Crimes and Security was billed as a meaningful partisan accomplishment for DeSantis, before it became a debacle.

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