ORLANDO, Florida. – A new federal lawsuit accuses Florida officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, of deliberately making it difficult for convicted felons to determine their voting rights and using the state’s Office of Electoral Crimes Enforcement and Security to intimidate, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
On Wednesday, the Florida Restoration Coalition and four Florida residents filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, Secretary of State Kord Byrd and county election monitors, as well as county court clerks.
FRRC is the organization that created Amendment 4 in 2018, approved by Florida voters. The amendment allowed most offenders who had served their sentences to automatically regain their voting rights. The exception was criminals convicted of murder or a sexual offense.
However, in implementing the amendment, the Florida Legislature required that offenders must pay any “Legal Financial Obligations (LFO)” as part of serving their sentence, including court fines and fees, and other restitution.
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FRRC said the state does not have an accessible system to help people determine their eligibility and their organization has been forced to divert resources to help people keep track of this information, and sometimes the information is not available or inaccurate.
“In other words, as a result of defendants’ actions, FRRC is now devoting a large amount of its time and financial resources to helping people with prior criminal convictions navigate the obscure state maze, which should be an unnecessary effort to help them regain their voting rights,” the lawsuit says.
Louis Bolden of News 6 elaborated on this issue in Solutionaries earlier this year.
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The lawsuit also shows that the state does not have a proper system for informing Florida residents of their voting rights. As a result, some convicted felons who thought they had paid their LFOs and registered to vote and even voted later learned that there were still outstanding LFOs in the judiciary.
Or, in some cases, criminals who thought they had the right to vote signed up and received a voter card, only to find out later that they should not have been allowed to vote.
In 2022, DeSantis announced the arrests of 20 illegal voters in the 2020 election, all of whom were former convicted felons, and announced that many more arrests lay ahead.
News 6 investigated the cases of some of those arrested and found that many of them, in their opinion, were reinstated. They registered to vote and received a voter information card from the state and believed they were voting in good faith.
In the case of Peter Washington, one of those arrested in Orange County, the state did not notify the county’s election monitor until a month after the 2020 election that Washington was ineligible to vote. Washington registered to vote and a voter information card was sent to him.
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Washington’s case was dismissed, although the state appealed the decision.
The FRRC said other former criminals who saw the governor’s announcement and subsequent news reports held back from voting in 2022 due to fears that their own records were incorrect and they would be arrested.
“The Defendants continued to disenfranchise these citizens by waiving the state’s legal obligation to determine voter eligibility; providing false information to potential voters; assuming voting rights to pay financial obligations unrelated to their voting rights; and the creation of a new law enforcement agency that orchestrated an arrest campaign that sent the signal that a vote, even in good faith, could result in arrest and prosecution,” the lawsuit says.
The FRRC is asking the court to declare the state’s application of Amendment 4 unconstitutional and require the state to create a reliable database so that criminals can determine what their unpaid LFOs are and how they can pay them, as well as review the cases of criminals who have registered to vote to make sure they are eligible.
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