Some felons who are allowed to vote are staying away from the polls because they're afraid of being arrested, Florida lawmaker says
- In 2018, Florida granted formerly incarcerated individuals the right to vote, with some exceptions.
- Some individuals who said they thought they were allowed to vote were arrested in August.
Florida restored voting rights for convicted felons in 2018, but confusion over election laws have led come to consider sitting out this election due to a fear of being re-incarcerated, according to a Democratic lawmaker and attorney in the state.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in August the arrest of 20 individuals for voter fraud, despite the voters being allowed to go through with the voting process, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The majority of the arrests made, 13, were of Black people, according to HuffPost. The data aligns with a New York Times report that said people who are poor and Black are more likely to be jailed for voter fraud than retirees. Twelve of the people arrested were also registered as Democrats, according to HuffPost.
"We've already encountered other individuals who have said, 'Look, I'm afraid to vote,'" Mike Gottlieb, a Democratic state representative in Florida and criminal defense attorney representing one of the men arrested, told HuffPost.
In November 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which allowed convicted felons — also known as returning citizens — to vote in elections "upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation." It also had an exception for people convicted of sexual offenses or murder, whose voting rights were not restored.
The law passed with a 64% majority, restoring the right to vote to more than 1 million returning citizens after 150 years of the ban, which was considered racist by many critics.
Some of the people recently arrested in Florida who were allowed to vote said they were told they could vote by election officials and law enforcement, but still ended up facing arrest months after the fact, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The individuals likely broke the law unintentionally due to the confusion behind Amendment 4, according to The Guardian. They face multiple counts that could each result in up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine, the outlet reported.
"It's had a major chilling effect," Gottlieb told HuffPost. "I think they've accomplished their goal. There are going to be people who are not interested in voting because they are concerned that they're going to be arrested."
"We're seeing individuals who, because of the confusion, might not participate this year," Neil Volz, a returning citizen and the Deputy Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, told HuffPost. "It's gut-wrenching to think that the de facto decision somebody needs to make, when they're confused about whether they're eligible or not, is to not vote."
Republicans frequently sound the alarm over concerns of voter fraud, including in Florida, where former President Donald Trump won and where three seniors in a pro-Trump elderly community were also charged with voter fraud last year.
But in stark contrast to Trump's claims that the 2020 election was stolen, The Associated Press identified less than 500 instances of voter fraud during the 2020 election cycle.
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