Lists containing the names of hundreds of voters have been sent to county elections supervisors around Florida by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new Office of Election Crimes and Security, which is urging they be screened spannd possibly prevented from voting becspanuse of felony convictions.
The lists were sent to supervisors in late October, just weeks before Election Dspany.
“We’re extremely uncomfortable with suddenly lodging a whole bunch of challenges to voters when it’s outside of procedures and statutes that have been in place for a long time,” said Mark Earley, who is the Leon County Supervisor and head of the state’s supervisors’ association.
In letters to supervisors, Election Crimes and Security’s Scott Strauss suggests the supervisors challenge ballots from a list of voters identified by the Division of Elections who had been sent a vote-by-mail ballot and “appear to have been convicted of a felony,” and whose rights “do not appear to have been restored.”
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The move is the second high-profile move by the Election Crimes and Security office, which was created earlier this year by the Republican-led Florida Legislature at DeSantis’ urging.
In August, just before the state’s primary elections, the office helped spearhead the arrests of 20 felons who had cast ballots in 2020 despite being ineligible to vote because they had been convicted of charges of murder or sex offenses.
Most of the 20 arrested are Black and had been cleared to vote by state and local officials.
A spokesman for the Office of Elections Crimes & Security, Mark Ard, said the letters to the supervisors never suggested they do anything “other than follow the law as it is written.”
“It made two requests of the Supervisors: one, to independently verify the information provided by the Office, and two, take all necessary measures permitted by law to prevent the ineligible voter from illegally casting a regular ballot in the election,” Ard said.
Elections officials face dozens of names to vet, confusing directions
Earley said he was sent a list of 124 names. Other supervisors around the state were also sent lists with hundreds of names to vet.
He explains Strauss suggests a procedure different from an eligibility challenge — where a provisional ballot is cast, and the local canvassing board decides whether to accept it.
It is different from the felon removal process, which can take up to 90 days to verify whether rights have been revoked and requirements for reinstatement have not been met.
Since state law does not anticipate such an administrative challenge to a vote-by-mail ballot, Earley said the Office of Election Crimes and Security suggestion means a county supervisor would have to file a personal challenge to the ballot — and be liable for filing a frivolous challenge if it is not upheld.
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“Most supervisors I talked to, the vast majority, had never lodged a challenge,” said Earley.
He said supervisors are trying to figure out how to notify voters and resolve any legal issues in advance.
Earley wouldn’t speculate whether the Office of Elections and Security suggestion could become a post-election day issue.
“I’ll let advocates for the various people involved, make that decision,” said Earley.
Voting rights for felons was restored, but a law requires fines, fees to be paid
Florida voters in 2018 approved Amendment 4, aimed at restoring voting rights to 1.4 million people barred because of past felony convictions, with the exception of murder or a sexual offense. Just months later, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that was signed into law by DeSantis to keep hundreds of thousands of felons from becoming eligible to vote until they meet all their past legal financial obligations.
But the law created confusion because a lack of available records made it difficult for a felon to track what they owed in fines or restitution.
Voting rights groups and others — including Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes, the GOP legislator who drafted the original law implementing Amendment 4 — argue that state elections officials have failed to meet its role in verifying voter eligibility.
DeSantis has defended the prosecutions of the 20 arrested on voter fraud charges, noting that voters have to check a box on their registration form stating “I affirm that I am not a convicted felon, or if I am, that my right to vote has been restored.”
Florida Democrats decry DeSantis action
All Voting is Local Action Florida’s State Director Brad Ashwell said the move by DeSantis “just days before the election creates confusion and could chill voter participation” and called for an investigation.
“This is yet another fear tactic by Gov. DeSantis aimed at suppressing historically disenfranchised voters at a critical point in our election cycle,” he said in a statement.
The Florida Democratic Party, which obtained the letters sent to election supervisors, said the DeSantis administration’s action “to purge voter rolls in the 11th hour before an election in which he’s a candidate is a clear violation of Floridians’ rights.”
“It leaves voters with no time to challenge or address any issues before Election Day and Supervisors with little choice but to go along,” said Sam Koplewicz, Director of Voter Protection for the Florida Democratic Party. “What’s clear is that DeSantis’ election police aren’t protecting Florida elections, they’re trying to undermine them.”
Separately, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Friday that it had arrested a 55-year-old woman from the Palm Beach County city of Loxahatchee for casting ballots both in Florida and Alaska in the 2020 election.
The Election Crimes and Security office assisted with the investigation, officials said.
Cheryl Ann Leslie, a physician’s assistant, was charged with two felony counts for voting absentee in Alaska and in-person in Florida during state and federal elections two years ago. She was booked into Palm Beach County Jail, officials said.
In other matters, more than 15,000 vote-by-mail ballots have been flagged by elections supervisors around the state for signature and other problems, Common Cause Florida said Friday, urging voters to closely monitor the status of their ballots.
Amy Keith, the organization’s ballot program director, said, “those who voted-by-mail should check with their county Supervisor of Elections office to ensure their ballot was received without issue.”
By Thursday, 15,714 ballots — just under 1% of the total mail ballots — had been flagged, mostly for missing or mismatched signatures on returned envelopes, according to an analysis by Dan Smith, a University of Florida political scientist and Common Cause advisor.
If there is a problem, voters can cure, or fix, those problem ballots by 5 p.m., Nov. 10 – two days after Election Day. But without curing, these votes may not be counted.
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