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Hillsborough court cases begin for those accused of illegally voting in 2020 election

Six Hillsborough County residents with felony convictions face voter fraud charges. One man's attorney says his client was falsely accused.

TAMPA, Fla. — The first of six court cases started Tuesday for the Hillsborough voters with felony convictions accused of illegally casting a ballot in the 2020 election.

An attorney for Douglas Oliver waived formal arraignment and filed a not guilty plea with the court. Oliver’s attorney told 10 Investigates’ Emerald Morrow his client has been falsely accused.

Oliver is one of six Hillsborough County residents arrested in August by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security.

RELATED: DeSantis' election police unit announces 20 voter fraud cases

When announcing the arrests, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the effort is to crack down on voter fraud.

“They did not go through any process. They did not get their rights restored and yet, they went ahead and voted anyways,” DeSantis said in August. “That is against the law. And now they're gonna pay the price for it.”

However, many of those arrested said they were unaware they had done anything wrong as they had been allowed to register and received registration cards.

RELATED: 'I had no plans on committing voter fraud': Felon arrested for voting says he didn't know he was ineligible

Gerri Kramer, a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, previously told 10 Investigates that state law requires them to receive a list of voters ineligible to vote due to felony convictions and that they did not receive that list until at least a year after those arrested has already cast their ballot.

RELATED: State didn't tell local elections office to remove some convicted felons until after they voted, officials say

Additionally, an August letter from Peter Antonacci, head of the Office of Election Crimes and Security, told local supervisors of elections they were not at fault for the voters with felony convictions slipping through the system.

“Through no fault of your own, records demonstrate that the convicted felons listed in the attached Exhibit A were registered to vote and voted in your county during the 2020 General Election,” the letter reads.

A spokesperson for the Department of State placed the blame on the voters.

“The individuals who were arrested for election crimes are felons convicted of murder or sexual offenses who are, by virtue of their crimes, ineligible to vote absent clemency,” Mark Ard said in an email to 10 Investigates. “The ultimate responsibility to ensure compliance with the law lies with the voter, as local and state election officials are obliged to take the word of the voter on the voter application – affirmations made under penalty of perjury.”

Critics of the arrests say the proper safeguards were not in place to prevent this from happening at taxpayers’ expense.

"It was a failure at the highest levels of government in terms of the structure wasn't set up to protect these individuals…” political analyst Lars Hafner said. “The taxpayers [are] paying to prosecute something that was an honest mistake, and it was the governor’s team’s mistake. But they’re trying to hold someone accountable just to lift up the issue…”

Twenty people statewide are facing charges of voter fraud. They can face a $5,000 fine and additional prison time.

Oliver’s next hearing is set to take place in October. The remaining five facing charges will have their first appearances over the next couple of weeks.

Emerald Morrow is an investigative reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10tampabay.com.

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