TAMPA, Fla. — A jury trial for a Hillsborough County man accused of illegally voting in the 2020 election began Tuesday morning.
Nathan Hart is one of 20 people statewide and one of six arrested in Hillsborough County last August under the state’s Election Crimes and Security unit.
Prosecutors charged all 20 with false swearing and voter fraud for casting ballots in the election despite their status as either felony sex offenders or convicted murderers.
On Tuesday morning, Hart's attorney argued in his opening statement that his client did not know he was breaking the law.
Addressing the jury, defense attorney Joseph Kudia said, "You need to pay attention to whether the state can prove this is knowing, that this is intentional."
The attorney representing the state, however, argued the law is clear and Hart falsified his voter information by indicating he was a felon who Amendment 4 applied to.
“These folks voted illegally, in this case, and there's gonna be other grounds for other prosecutions in the future,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a Fort Lauderdale news conference announcing the arrests last August. “They are disqualified from voting because they have been convicted of either murder or sexual assault and they do not have the right to vote.
"They have been disenfranchised under Florida law.”
Many of those arrested believed they were eligible to vote because they received valid registration cards from the state. Confusion around Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to some people with felony convictions, also led them to believe their voting rights were restored. However, this change in state law does not apply to those with murder or felony sex offense convictions.
Hart told 10 Investigates in 2022 that someone working to register voters outside of a Florida Highways Safety and Motor Vehicles office in Gibsonton encouraged him to apply for a voter registration card.
“There was a guy out in front that had a table set up with all the signs and banners [that said] register to vote and get out and vote, that kind of thing,” he said. “And before I went in, he asked me if I was able to vote.”
Hart said he told him he could not vote due to his felony conviction.
“He [the worker] said 'well, there’s this law passed two years ago that says ex-cons who complete their sentences can vote,” Hart said last year. "I’m like 'well, alright, what the hell.'"
"So, I just went ahead and filled out the form like he showed me, and a month later, I got a voter ID card. So, I figured, that law applied to me after all."
Hart, who registered as a Republican, said he would have never cast a ballot if he knew it would result in another arrest and possible jail time.
"If I had any clues it'd come and bite me in the behind, then I would've never stepped out my front door to go vote in the first place,” he said.
Emerald Morrow is an investigative reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her onTwitter. You can also email her at firstname.lastname@example.org