Florida Officials Failed to Do Their Job, Voters to Pay the Price

Washington, D.C. – Blair Bowie, senior legal counsel and Restore Your Vote manager at Campaign Legal Center, issued the following statement after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the state is charging 20 people with illegal voting due to past felony convictions.

“Florida’s strategy to criminalize people with felony convictions for voting is a transparent voter intimidation tactic designed to keep Floridians from even trying to vote. Advocates asked for a process for people with convictions to easily determine their eligibility. The state refused. Since Florida’s felony disenfranchisement law is so complex, Florida election officials swore under oath that they would check voter registrations, every day, and remove voters with convictions who are ineligible. They failed to keep that promise, and now 20 Floridians are facing charges and possible prison time because the elected officials want to score a political point at their expense.

Floridians voted for an inclusive democracy where every voice is heard. Instead of criminalizing people for trying to vote, Florida must create a process to determine registrants’ eligibility. In fact, the state is required to do so under federal law. The right to vote is a basic democratic freedom and Floridians with felony convictions are citizens who should have a say on the issues that directly impact their lives.”

In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 to lift Florida’s lifetime ban on voting for people with felony convictions. In response, Florida politicians passed a law – SB 7066 – which erected new barriers that prevent people with felony convictions from voting.

Among other things, the law makes it extremely difficult for someone with a past felony conviction to determine whether they can vote.  For a person to be guilty of illegal registration and voting, they must have known they were ineligible. However, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has not released any evidence showing that these individuals knew they could not vote.

Many Floridians reasonably believed they could vote because their registrations were approved and they were not taken off the rolls before the election. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion stating that all 85,000 people with felony convictions who registered to vote before the trial were “entitled to vote” unless the state removed them  from the rolls. Since they were never removed, those individuals had every reason to believe they could vote.  

This is not the first time Florida has criminalized people with felony convictions just for trying to vote. In April, the state charged 10 Floridians for illegally voting – even though many had no knowledge they could not vote and were actually in custody when they registered and cast ballots. There too, the county presented little evidence, if any, that these individuals were aware they could not vote when they registered and cast a ballot. That evidence is required to prove illegal voting and illegal registration charges.

These charges are part of a larger anti-democratic strategy in Florida to criminalize and intimidate voters with felony convictions, so even those who can vote are too afraid to.

People with felony convictions can find out if they can vote at RestoreYourVote.org. Restore Your Vote is a free, anonymous tool to help people with felony convictions find out if they can register to vote or have their rights restored.