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Bodycam footage shows confusion over voter fraud arrests in Florida

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Video from police body cameras in Florida shows just how confused and angry some people were to learn that they were being arrested and accused of voting illegally in 2020.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #1: So if you could put your hands behind your back, please.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, my God. I'm like, voter fraud - I voted, but I ain't commit no fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #2: That's the thing. I don't know exactly what happened with it, but you do have a warrant, and that's what it's for.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, my God.

MARTINEZ: The video was obtained by the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times after 19 people were arrested in August, just hours before Republican Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters he was cracking down on voter fraud. Twelve of those who were served with warrants are Democrats; at least 13 are Black people. On the line with us is Lawrence Mower. He reports for both the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald from Tallahassee. Lawrence, why were these people arrested?

LAWRENCE MOWER: They're arrested because they're accused of basically from - by Governor Ron DeSantis of voting illegally, basically knowingly violating the state voter fraud law, you know. And when - obviously, these people were clearly confused about why they were being arrested in the first place.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. And you could hear that in the audio clip that we played. I mean, what was the response from some of the other suspects?

MOWER: Well, it was pretty common. There was one person, Nathan Hart - he's a registered sex offender - said that when he went to go change his driver's license, presumably at the DMV, that he - the person at the DMV told him, hey, why don't you sign up and register to vote? And he said, I'm pretty sure I can't because I'm a felon. And the person said - at the DMV presumably said, well, hey, if you can vote, they'll let you vote. You know, just fill it out anyway. And if you can't vote, they won't let you vote. And, obviously, that's not what happened because these people, all of them were issued voter ID cards by - after checks by the secretary of state and allowed to vote. They weren't stopped from voting. And so now they stand accused of basically knowingly voting when presumably they were supposed to know that they were ineligible.

MARTINEZ: What about the police officers that made the arrests? How did they respond?

MOWER: Yeah, that's pretty extraordinary. Local police were helping state police carry out these arrests. And in the case of Nathan Hart, I just mentioned, you know, he recounts how, you know, he went to the DMV and they said you can vote - or sign up and see if you can vote. And the police officer actually lends him advice. The officer says, then there's your defense. You know, what I'm saying? That sounds like a loophole. Another officer is overheard saying, rather dismissively, I've never seen these charges before in my entire life. So these officers were - you know, seem fairly sympathetic to these people's situations.

MARTINEZ: Has anyone from the state of Florida said anything about this?

MOWER: Not yet, although there have been some state lawmakers who have said that these obviously raised questions about whether these people were knowingly violating the law. If they're so confused here, why are they being accused of knowingly violating the law?

MARTINEZ: Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald reporter Lawrence Mower, thank you very much.

MOWER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.