Appeals Court to Take Up Florida Voter Fraud Fight

TALLAHASSEE — An appeals court Tuesday will take up a high-profile case about the state’s attempt to prosecute a convicted felon who was among 20 people accused of voter fraud in 2022 by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other top Florida officials.

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office went to the 4th District Court of Appeal after Broward County Circuit Judge George Odom in December 2022 dismissed charges against Terry Hubbard, who registered and voted in 2020. Hubbard had received a voter identification card but was alleged to be ineligible to vote because of convictions for sex crimes.

DeSantis and the controversial Florida Office of Elections Crimes and Security drew widespread attention when authorities announced the prosecutions of Hubbard and the 19 other people in August 2022. DeSantis’ office issued a news release with a headline saying he was announcing the arrests of “20 Elections Criminals.”

But the Hubbard case and others were handled by the statewide prosecutor, rather than local state attorneys. That led Odom to dismiss the Hubbard case because he said the statewide prosecutor only has jurisdiction to prosecute crimes that occur in more than one judicial circuit.

In the appeal, Moody’s office contends that Hubbard’s alleged crime involved more than one circuit because he registered in Broward County and information was forwarded to the secretary of state’s office in Leon County. Broward County is in the 17th Judicial Circuit, while Leon County is in the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

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Also, Moody’s office has cited a law approved in 2023 by the Legislature and DeSantis to try to make clear that the statewide prosecutor has jurisdiction in such cases.

“At a minimum, the illegal registration and voting here affected the Second and Seventeenth Circuits because they triggered events that occurred in both circuits,” lawyers in Moody’s office wrote in a brief last year. “Because Hubbard’s voting offenses affected multiple judicial circuits, the statewide prosecutor has the power to pursue these charges under (the 2023 law).”

But Hubbard’s attorneys wrote in a December brief that Hubbard’s alleged criminal conduct happened only in Broward County and that the statewide prosecutor “usurped the Broward County state attorney’s authority to prosecute alleged voting-related offenses.”

“Florida law explicitly limits OSP (the Office of Statewide Prosecution) jurisdiction to large-scale, complex, and organized criminal conspiracies that extend beyond a single judicial circuit,” the brief said. “The rationale behind the OSP’s creation was to hand such complex cases to statewide prosecutors when they could not be effectively or efficiently prosecuted by a single-circuit state attorneys’ office.”

Hubbard’s attorneys also disputed that the 2023 law could be used as a basis to overturn Odom’s ruling, saying it wasn’t in effect in 2022.

Similar disputes have played out in the state’s attempts to prosecute other people who were charged as part of the 2022 announcement. A footnote in the brief filed in December by Hubbard’s attorneys said the legal question was pending in five other appeals-court cases in various parts of the state.

DeSantis and other Republican leaders in recent years have made a major issue of trying to stamp out what they say is voter fraud. Those efforts included creating the Office of Elections Crimes and Security, which critics have derided as the “election police.”

Numerous groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and the Brennan Center for Justice, have signed on to friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Hubbard in the appellate fight.

Florida voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment aimed at restoring the rights of convicted felons who have completed terms of their sentences. The amendment did not apply to people with convictions for murder or sex offenses.

Carrying out the amendment, however, created widespread confusion.

Odom’s ruling said Hubbard initially completed a voter-registration application in July 2019 in Broward County. The county supervisor of elections submitted the application to the secretary of state’s office, and Hubbard was issued a voter-identification card in August 2019.

Hubbard submitted a second application to Broward County in February 2020, and he voted by mail in the November 2020 election, according to Odom’s ruling.

Other stories you may want to read:

Jack Furnari: An Election Day Message to Palm Beach County Republicans

Delray Beach Election Roundup and Endorsements

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