A Tampa woman accepts a plea agreement in the DeSantis voter fraud case
Tampa woman accepts a plea agreement: One of the 20 people arrested by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new election security force accepted a plea deal on Monday that allows her to avoid any punishment. Tampa resident Romona Oliver, 56, pleaded no contest to a felony charge of voting during the 2020 election while ineligible. In exchange, statewide prosecutors dropped another felony charge of “false swearing” when she registered to vote. Tampa woman accepts a plea agreement.
Oliver was given credit for time served; she spent a few hours in the Hillsborough County jail on August 18, the same day DeSantis held a press conference to announce the first arrests made by his new Office of Election Crimes and Security. Oliver did not receive probation, was not assigned community service, and was not required to pay court fees such as the cost of prosecution or the cost of the investigation, according to Mark Rankin, Oliver’s attorney in Tampa.
“Essentially, zero consequences except for all the stress she’s been under for the last three months,” Rankin said. She faced a maximum of five years in prison for two separate felonies. “No contest” is not equivalent to “guilty,” and Rankin maintains that Oliver did nothing wrong.
“As much as I wanted to fight this and take it to court as a lawyer and Florida resident, I don’t blame her,” Rankin said. She desired to put this matter to rest and move on with her life without stress. Statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox said in a statement that “each case is unique.” “The Office of Statewide Prosecution is pleased to secure the felony conviction on illegal voting,” Cox said.
As someone previously convicted of second-degree murder in 2000, Oliver was not eligible to vote, even under the terms of 2018′s Amendment 4.
That constitutional amendment, approved by Florida voters, restored the right to vote to all people convicted of a felony except for those convicted of murder and felony se* offenses, and those who hadn’t completed “all terms” of their sentence.
Nonetheless, the amendment caused widespread confusion, and when Oliver registered to vote on February 14, 2020, the Department of State which reports to DeSantis authorized her to receive a voter identification card.
The voter registration form required her to swear under penalty of perjury that she was not a convicted felon, or if she was, that her voting rights had been restored. State law stipulates that a voter must “willfully” commit the crime, a requirement that has historically prevented some prosecutors from charging ineligible voters. In August, when police attempted to arrest Oliver in her driveway while she was on her way to work, body cameras captured her confusion. “Voter fraud?” She stated, “I voted, but I did not commit any election fraud.”
State law requires the Department of State to identify and remove ineligible voters from the voter rolls, a task it has struggled to accomplish. Oliver’s inclusion on the voter rolls this year, months after she was arrested, went unnoticed by the department. Nearly a month after his arrest, a second individual received a new voter identification card.
In response to pressure from the right over his refusal to audit the 2020 election, DeSantis pushed the Legislature to establish the Department of State’s first Office of Election Crimes and Security this year. The arrests on August 18 were its first actions, and DeSantis received applause and cheers at his morning news conference.
DeSantis vowed at the time, “This is against the law, and they will pay the price for it.” To date, none of the twenty individuals arrested have been sentenced to prison. One of them was cleared of all charges last week by state prosecutors. A judge dismissed charges against another defendant in Miami last month, and statewide prosecutors have filed an appeal.
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