Organizations Ready to Support Voters and the Public with Questions about Challenges
Voting Rights Groups Express Concern over Challenges to Florida Voters
Nonpartisan voting rights groups in Florida’s Election Protection Coalition are concerned about voter challenges prompted by the state in at least 12 counties to the voting eligibility of over 1,900 Floridians on the eve of a major election. Many or all of these challenges appear to be prompted by the state Office of Election Crimes and Security.
Voters who have been challenged should reach out to 866-OUR-VOTE, the national Election Protection Hotline. If a voter is unsure of their eligibility due to a past conviction, they should contact the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, 877-MYVOTE-0.
Voting rights groups are concerned about the filing of these challenges on the eve of the election. This unusual process for challenging voters has created confusion and risks disenfranchising eligible voters. In some counties, challenged voters – who may have previously received voter registration cards – may learn about the challenge or that there is an issue with their eligibility only when they show up to vote.
“The freedom to vote belongs to each and every one of us, and Florida voters echoed that sentiment loudly and clearly when we collectively restored the right to vote to most Floridians with past felonies in 2018,” said Amy Keith, program director for Common Cause Florida. “We are calling on Florida officials to create a system to support returning citizens and state agencies to determine voting eligibility, instead of playing a game of ‘gotcha’ with the lives of vulnerable Floridians who are trying to make their communities stronger with their vote and voice.”
Information gathered by voting rights and election law experts indicates that instead of updating Florida’s voter rolls under the normal processes in state law, the newly-created Office of Election Crimes and Security in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration pressured county Supervisors of Elections to file mass challenges while voting was already underway.
Florida voters were unequivocal in their intention that the freedom to vote is one that we should all share, regardless of our past, when voters in 2018 chose to restore the vote to most Floridians who have served felony sentences.
“The state has invested more in fighting Amendment 4, the law that restored the right to vote to citizens with convictions, than it has in making voting easy, accessible and safe for millions of Floridians,” said Cesar Z. Ruiz, a lawyer with LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “By choosing to investigate and prosecute people eager to exercise their sacred right to vote, state officials are showing that they are less interested in securing elections and more in harming Black and Brown people.”
Any Florida resident previously convicted of a felony can currently register and vote, provided they weren’t convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses and that all terms of their sentences have been completed — including incarceration, probation, parole, and supervised release, and payment of any fines, fees or restitution that was part of their sentence. But the confusing nature of the state’s court system and the lack of a reliable and centralized source of information regarding payment of legal financial obligations (LFOs) makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many people to determine their voting eligibility.
“Our democracy works best when we all have the freedom to vote, a unifying belief that Floridians backed up when we decided in 2018 that returning citizens who have paid their dues deserve to have their voting rights restored,” said Kirk Bailey, political director for the ACLU of Florida. “We should have state leaders who are proactively working around the clock to make sure every eligible voter in our state has a way to easily determine their eligibility and get to the polls, not questionable challenges filed right before the election with the intent of scaring people away from exercising their right to vote.”
People should not have to navigate a maze of bureaucracy in order to determine whether they are eligible to vote. The state has failed to develop an easy, clear way for checking voter eligibility, leaving too much ambiguity in the process for returning citizens looking to fulfill their civic duty by voting. This is a failure of the state’s own making. The state is instead spending valuable public resources pursuing the questionable arrests and challenges of citizens, many of whom were led to believe they were eligible to vote when the state issued them voter registration cards.
“Florida’s elections have never been safer or more secure. However, the Office of Election Crimes wants you to believe the opposite,” said Brad Ashwell, florida state director for All Voting is Local. “Directing supervisors of elections to systematically remove voters this close to an election is an egregious tactic by the Office of Election Crimes and a backdoor method to attack voters and strip them of their freedom to vote. Floridians deserve to vote without fear and should feel confident in casting their ballot this election cycle.
Voters or those with questions can always contact the following groups:
Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, 877-MYVOTE
Restore Your Vote, restoreyourvote.org, recuperesuvoto.org
Florida’s nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition Hotline
English, 866-OUR-VOTE, 866-687-8683
Spanish, 888-VE-Y-VOTA, 888-839-8682
Asian languages/English, 888-API-VOTE, 888-274-8683
Arabic 844-YALLA-US, 844-925-5287
To learn more about voting with a criminal background in Florida, download this resource.