Advertisement

Florida sued over confusing voting rules that disenfranchise people with felony convictions

A major group of legal organisations is taking on the state of Florida over its rules governing when felons can have their voting rights restored, calling the rules discriminatory and overly confusing.

The groups also say that state officials are not providing released Floridians with felony convictions enough information about how their right to vote can be restored, leading to cases where people who thought they had regained their right to vote found themselves under criminal indictment for voter fraud.

The Brennan Center announced the lawsuit on Thursday in conjunction with the League of Women Voters, one of the oldest organisations in America dedicated to expanding access to the vote for women and a successor of the National American Women Suffrage Association.

The goal of the lawsuit is to force Florida officials to provide more information on voter registration forms detailing how potential voters with felony convictions can see their rights restored under law. They cite requirements of the National Voter Registration Act, which specifies that voter registration forms shall specify state-specific “information regarding the state's specific voter eligibility and registration requirements”.

Florida’s voter registration website specifies that prospective voters must “[n]ot be a person convicted of a felony without having your right to vote restored.” However, the same section on the website (and the official registration forms) do not spell out how that process is completed. An accompanying “FAQ” section on the same website also does not explain the process.

According to the Brennan Center, “[t]he state adopted this antidemocratic system knowing there is no centralized database where potential voters can learn whether they even owe disqualifying court debts.”

“At the same time, Florida has enacted laws that make it more difficult for nonpartisan civic engagement organizations like the League of Women Voters of Florida and Florida NAACP to register eligible voters with past convictions,” reads the organisation’s statement. “And of course it has started upending the lives of dozens of Floridians with past convictions, arresting and prosecuting them for registering and voting while ineligible – even though they believed in good faith that they could vote.”

Florida officials have been roundly criticised by civil rights groups for efforts to restrict the rights of persons with felony convictions to vote after voters in the state decided via ballot measure to extend the right to vote to those who have served their sentences.

Last year, the state arrested nearly two dozen people for voting in the state’s 2020 elections without completing the process to restore their rights under state law, which includes paying court fees and other requirements.