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Florida Makes Parolees Criminally Liable for Accidental Voter Registration Fraud

by David M. Reutter

Florida took a significant step towards charging more ex-convicts with voter fraud, eight days after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced the first 20 arrests in August 2022. [See: PLN, Jan. 2023, p.18.] On August 26, 2022, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) revised its “Instructions to the Offender” form to include a waiver that must be signed by those being released on probation, accepting full liability for any illegal voter registration — even accidental.

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4 to the state Constitution in 2018, barring political disenfranchisement based solely upon a felony conviction. The change, however, left behind a sub-class of disenfranchised felons: Those convicted of murder and felony sex offenses are still barred from voting. PLN opposed Amendment 4 based upon that provision. Supporters, however, feared the initiative would fail if this “basket of deplorables” were included, to borrow a phrase from 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The most controversial and most litigated of the changes was a requirement that all court-imposed fines, fees, costs, and restitution be paid before voter eligibility is restored. Though Florida does not have in place any system to determine these amounts, both federal and state courts have upheld this requirement to restore voting rights.

Voter fraud was a huge issue in the 2022 elections. Florida’s election, however, went off without a hitch, and it was one of the earliest states to report returns. Nonetheless, Gov. DeSantis picked up the rallying cry of rampant voter fraud from former Pres. Donald J. Trump (R), ordering agents of the state’s new Office of Election Crimes and Security to find and prosecute anyone who voted illegally.

But of the 20 people who were picked up, most probably won’t be found guilty of a “willful” violation of the law, since they were issued voter ID cards by a county Elections Supervisor. DOC’s revised instruction to probationers attempts to close off that defense. “By signing this letter, you agree that you alone are solely responsible for determining if you are legally able to register to vote,” the form declares.

“If someone tells you that you are eligible to vote, you must rely upon your own independent knowledge (as informed by your attorney if applicable) of your individual circumstances, and not upon the advice of any third parties who may be incorrect or unqualified to interpret your eligibility,” the form adds.

So remember: If you were convicted of a violent felony, or if you are a registered sex offender, or if you possibly owe any unpaid fines, fees or restitution, you can’t legally register to vote in Florida. Moreover, until the state makes it easier to determine those outstanding debts, the 150,000 Floridians on probation must choose between casting a vote and risking arrest.

“This is just going to make future prosecutions easier for the state,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Alex Saiz, with the Florida Justice Center. “I think it’s horrifying.” 

Additional source: Miami Herald

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