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Woman arrested under controversial Florida voter fraud program pleads 'no contest,' man heads to trial

Twenty people were arrested in August under the program launched by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

TAMPA, Fla. — Two of the six controversial voter fraud cases in Hillsborough County came before Judge Laura Ward Monday morning.

They are among 20 people arrested in August under a controversial election fraud program launched by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The governor said the people charged were convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense and therefore exempt from a constitutional amendment that restores voting rights to some felons. 

Romona Oliver, who was seen on police body camera video showing confusion over her arrest, pleaded no contest to a felony charge of voting by unqualified elector. The state agreed to no prison time and no fines.

Her first charge of false affirmation in connection with election was dismissed, according to her attorney, Mark Rankin.

She did not want to move forward with a jury trial, Rankin said.

"The state made her an offer where the case completely went away. She had no jail time, no probation, no financial consequences, no fines. They basically let her resolve the case without any consequences," said Rankin. "She wanted to do that today because it's been stressing her out a lot to be operating in the court system under a felony charge."

Rankin told 10 Investigates' Emerald Morrow he took the case on pro bono because he felt those arrested were being taken advantage of by the system.

"I could see that this was political theatre by the governor," said Rankin. "These are people that, at least with Ms. Oliver and a lot of the cases that I've read about, are people who were told that they could vote, they believed that they could vote, and they showed up to do that right after being told by the Supervisor of Elections that they were eligible. And that was just wrong. None of these cases should have been charged. The statewide prosecutor should have refused to bring these charges."

Nathan Hart, who 10 Investigates spoke to in November, did not make any pleas. His case will move forward with a jury trial early next year. Pre-trial is set for Jan. 31, with a jury trial slated for Feb. 6.

Statewide prosecutor Nick Cox said in a statement to 10 Investigates: "The Office of Statewide Prosecution is pleased to secure the felony conviction on illegal voting. As the other case is pending, we cannot comment further."

The charges announced earlier this year were from the state's Office of Election Crimes and Security, which was created as part of a voting law package approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year. The unit reviews fraud allegations and conducts preliminary investigations, with the law requiring the governor to appoint a group of special officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to pursue alleged violations, according to The Associated Press.

Critics argue the office would serve as a political tool for the governor.

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