Category Archives: felon voting

“After voter fraud arrests, Florida issues new forms that could bolster future cases”

Tampa Bay Times:

A week after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the arrests of 20 people for alleged voter fraud, his administration quietly made a change that some say could help the state go after more people.

Starting in August, Floridians on probation have been required to sign an updated form placing the burden on them to determine if they’re eligible to vote.

Beneath warnings about remaining drug-free and reporting to their probation officer is the new message:

“By signing this letter,” the updated form states, “you agree that you are solely responsible for determining if you are legally able to register to vote and that you must solely determine if you are lawfully qualified to vote.”…

But the timing of the changes — just eight days after DeSantis held a news conference accusing felons of voting illegally — has some questioning the state’s motives.

Each of the people arrested in August had previously been convicted of murders or felony sex offenses, making them ineligible to vote, even under the 2018 constitutional amendment giving most felons that right after they have finished their sentences. The Departmentof State, which reports to DeSantis, allowed them on the rollsanyway, and they voted in 2020.

To break the law, the voters’actions had to be “willful,” a high legal burden. Many of those arrestedhave said they thought they could vote because they were issued voter ID cards.

The new probation forms — which those on probation are required to sign — could be used as evidence to show future actions were “willful,” said Alex Saiz, a lawyer for the Florida Justice Center, a Broward County-based nonprofit that provides legal aid and reentry services.

Share this:

“Ron DeSantis’ voter fraud hunt backfires”

Axios:

Elections officials across Florida are poking holes in the DeSantis administration’s claims that they’re to blame after 20 people were arrested for voting illegally.

Driving the news: Supervisors of elections in Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties say it’s the state’s responsibility to notify local election offices about people ineligible to vote because of certain prior felony convictions, Politico reports.

Pete Antonacci, who DeSantis appointed as head of his elections investigation office, contradicted the governor’s claims by telling local election supervisors in a letter earlier this month that they were not at fault in allowing the felons to vote in 2020.

Why it matters: If the charges don’t stick, DeSantis will have egg on his face after making a show of the arrests to tout ​​his new election security task force.

Some of the people arrested have said they thought they were allowed to vote.

In 2018, Florida voters approved a ballot measure to restore the voting rights of people with prior felony convictions. Alas, it excepted people who had convictions for murder or a felony sex offense.

A lawyer for one of the Miami-Dade defendants told reporter Politico’s Matt Dixon that police dragged his client out of his home in his underwear for the arrest.

Share this:

“Defendants targeted in DeSantis’ voter fraud crackdown were told they could vote”

Politico:

Several people who were arrested last week as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ voter fraud crackdown were notified by official government entities they were eligible to vote, according to court documents and interviews.

The defendants told authorities they had no intention of committing voter fraud, according to affidavits, and in some cases were baffled by their arrests because counties had sent them voter registration cards and approved them to vote.

The defendants were vilified by the governor during a high profile press conference last week, where DeSantis announced the arrest of 20 people — convicted murderers and sex offenders — who allegedly cast votes in the 2020 election when they weren’t eligible to. The defendants, because of their convictions, weren’t permitted to vote.

DeSantis highlighted their arrests to show his new $1.1 million election security office, created during the 2022 legislative session, was paying off and rooting out bad actors looking to commit voter fraud. Such fraud has become a top tier issue for Republicans across the country, including DeSantis, who has championed a series of election reform bills, including the creation of a first-of-its kind election investigations unit housed under Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody.

In the days since the announcement, however, several of those arrested have told media outlets or authorities that they had no idea they were not eligible to vote. In court documents filed in five counties, most say at least one official government body — in most cases a local election supervisor — incorrectly indicated to them they could vote, including allowing them to register and sending them voter cards in the mail.

Court records show that many who were swept up by authorities have little education or financial resources and are now back in the state’s criminal justice system. Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agents interviewed the defendants over a few days in early August before arresting them last Thursday.

Share this:

5th Circuit, Sitting En Banc, Upholds Mississippi’s Felon Disenfranchisement Law Despite Finding It was Originally Enacted with Racially Discriminatory Intent, Finding 1968 Reauthorization Free of Such Intent (!)

You can find the per curiam opinion at this link.

From the primary dissent by Judge Graves:

In 1890, Mississippi held a constitutional convention with the express aim of enshrining white supremacy. The 1890 Convention was a backlash against Reconstruction-era efforts to remedy centuries of chattel slavery and violence against Black people. The Convention was successful. The new constitution erased racial progress in Mississippi primarily through disenfranchising Black voters, formally beginning the Jim Crow era of the American South. Today the en banc majority upholds a provision enacted in 1890 that was expressly aimed at preventing Black Mississippians from voting. And it does so by concluding that a virtually all-white electorate and legislature, otherwise engaged in massive and violent resistance to the Civil Rights Movement, “cleansed” that provision in 1968. Handed an opportunity to right a 130-year-old wrong, the majority instead upholds it. I respectfully dissent.

The majority opinion unsurprisingly relies upon the “animus cleansing” that Justice Alito put forward in his Abbott v. Perez majority opinion (and about which I explain in The Supreme Court’s Pro-Partisanship Turn, 109 Georgetown Law Journal Online 50 (2020)).

Share this:

Florida: “DeSantis touted their arrest. But ex-felons say they weren’t told they couldn’t vote”

Tampa Bay Times:

When Romona Oliver registered to vote in early 2020 at the Hillsborough Tax Collector’s office, she was asked if she had a felony conviction. She said yes.

The women helping her with the form submitted it, Oliver said. She said she was never asked specifically if her right to vote had been restored.

Oliver, a Tampa resident, had recently been released from a women’s prison in Florida after serving a 20-year sentence for second-degree murder.

In the last few months of her time in prison, Oliver said she’d read about Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment approved by about 65% of Floridians in 2018, which restored the voting rights of most felons who had completed all terms of their sentence.

No one told her she didn’t qualify under Amendment 4; the law doesn’t apply to those with sex offenses or murder charges. She registered as a Democrat and got her voter card in the mail.

In the 2020 presidential election, she voted. It was the first time Oliver, 55, ever did.

“It was exciting for me because I felt like after all that time, I want to get out and try to do the right thing,” she said. “Give back to the community.”

On Thursday morning, Oliver was arrested on a charge of voting as an unqualified elector and false affirmation. That afternoon, Gov. Ron DeSantis touted the arrests of 20 people, Oliver included, who had voted despite having a felony conviction for murder or a sex offense. Those arrested spanned five different counties: Hillsborough, Orange, Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade.

“That is against the law and now they’re going to pay the price for it, so they will be charged,” DeSantis said.

Five of those arrested Thursday on voter fraud charges told the Times/Herald they believed they were able to vote and had faced no issue registering. They said they would not have voted had they known their previous convictions made them ineligible…

Amendment 4 supporters argue that Thursday’s arrests are another sign that the current system for restoring votes for non-violent felons is broken.

Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said the felons’ stories reinforce a need for a statewide database that shows election officials whether a person registering to vote is eligible.

“We’ve been banging this drum for years,” Volz said. “If you can’t trust the government to tell you whether you’re eligible in the front end, how can you prosecute somebody in the back end?”

The rollout of Amendment 4 in Florida was marred by confusion and legal wrangling after DeSantis pushed state lawmakers to pass a bill that required felons to pay off all fines and fees and restitution before being able to vote, even though Florida has no central database to track court fees. A judge referred to it as an “administrative nightmare.”

Nearly two years after Amendment 4 was passed, only about 8% of Floridians with felony convictions had registered to vote, according to a Times/Herald analysis.

Share this:

“Florida gave voting rights to people with felony convictions. Now some face charges for voting.”

Kira Lerner:

Florida authorities arrested a Black man while he was staying in a homeless shelter and charged him with voting illegally in a case tied to Republicans’ drive to root out election fraud.

But Kelvin Bolton’s arrest raises questions about the rollout of Amendment 4, passed by Florida voters in 2018 to restore voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions. 

The case is one of the first of its kind since Florida ended the Jim Crow-era voting policy that disproportionately affected Black citizens. Bolton’s arrest shows how the constitutional amendment now is being weaponized against poor people who may not realize they are committing a crime. 

When law enforcement found 55-year-old Bolton at the homeless shelter and arrested him for illegal voting, according to court records and as first reported by Fresh Take Florida at the University of Florida, he was on early release from jail but still serving two-and-a-half years for theft and simple battery. 

Bolton, who is currently being held in the Alachua County jail on $30,000 bail, is one of 10 people recently charged in the Gainesville, Florida, area with third-degree felonies for illegal voting. Eight of the 10 are Black men.

They all registered to vote while in jail or mailed ballots from jail, but had unpaid fines and fees from prior felony convictions that barred them from voting under a 2019 law, according to the state attorney’s office. Each is facing a potential five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. 

Bolton currently owes $7,018 in unpaid court fines and fees, including $1,500 in attorney and indigent appearance fees, according to an analysis of court records.

Share this:

“Prosecutor drops all charges against Pamela Moses, jailed over voting error”

Sam Levine for The Guardian:

A Memphis prosecutor has dropped all criminal charges against Pamela Moses, the Memphis woman who was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to register to vote.

Moses was convicted last year and sentenced in January. She was granted a new trial in February after the Guardian published a document showing that had not been given to her defense ahead of the trial.

Moses was set to appear in court on Monday to find out whether prosecutors would pursue a retrial.

The central issue in her case was whether she had known she was ineligible to vote when a probation officer filled out and signed a form indicating she was done with probation for a 2015 felony conviction and eligible to cast a ballot. Even though the probation officer admitted he had made a mistake, and Moses said she had no idea she was ineligible to vote, prosecutors said she knew she was ineligible and had deceived him. Moses stood in the lobby of the probation office while the officer went to his office to research her case for about an hour, he said at trial….

Amy Weirich, the Shelby county district attorney, who prosecuted the case, noted Moses had spent 82 days in jail before she was granted a new trial, “which is sufficient”.

“In the interest of judicial economy, we are dismissing her illegal registration case and her violation of probation,” she said in a statement.

She noted that Moses is permanently barred from voting in Tennessee. One of the crimes she pleaded guilty to in 2015, tampering with evidence, causes people to permanently lose their voting rights in Tennessee. During Moses’s trial, the judge overseeing the case and the two probation officers said they were unaware that was a crime that caused people to permanently lose the right to vote.

Share this:

“NC trial judges again allow more felony offenders to vote”

AP:

North Carolina’s law that prohibits people convicted of felonies from registering to vote while they are still serving probation, parole or other supervision discriminates against Black residents and is unconstitutional, a panel of state judges ruled on Monday.

The decision expands on a preliminary injunction issued last August by the majority on the same panel that heard evidence in a trial challenging a 1973 state law that delays the restoration of voting rights for some offenders who aren’t serving prison or jail time. It could affect tens of thousands of people previously convicted of felonies.

That injunction was blocked by the state Supreme Court in September. But any offender who registered during a roughly 10-day period when that injunction was in place could remain on voting rolls, the justices ruled last year.

Now Monday’s order essentially makes the content of that previous injunction more permanent. Lawyers for the state and General Assembly leaders could appeal the decision and seek to delay its enforcement for now.

But if upheld, the ruling signed by Superior Court Judges Lisa Bell and Keith Gregory could mean offenders still on probation or parole or being formally supervised for a state or felony conviction could register to vote.

Share this:

“Judge orders new trial for US woman sentenced to six years for trying to register to vote”

Sam Levine:

A Memphis judge ordered a new trial for Pamela Moses, a woman who was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to register to vote.

The case attracted national attention in recent weeks because of the severity of the sentence. Moses said she had no idea she was ineligible.

Moses has been in prison since December, when her bond was revoked. She was being released from custody on Friday, according to Claiborne Ferguson, her attorney….

Share this:

“New evidence undermines case against Black US woman jailed for voting error”

Sam Levine in The Guardian:

I have an update in my reporting on the case of Pamela Moses, the 44-year-old Black Lives Matter Activist in Memphis who was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to register to vote. The case has attracted significant national attention because many see Moses’ sentence as too severe and a clear example of disparities in the US criminal justice system.

The prosecution’s case is built around the argument that Moses knew she was ineligible to vote because she was on probation, and people on felony probation in Tennessee cannot vote. Indeed, a few months before she tried to register, a judge had issued an order telling Moses her probation was ongoing. But nevertheless, prosecutors argued, she convinced a probation officer into signing a form saying she was eligible to vote and then knowingly submitted the document knowing it was false. “You tricked the probation department into giving you documents saying you were off probation,” W Mark Ward, the judge who sentenced Moses, said in January.

Moses, for her part, told me she did now know she was ineligible and her lawyers have said she went to the probation office genuinely seeking clarity about whether she could vote. A new email I obtained through a public records request adds to evidence undercutting the claim that Moses tricked the officer.

In September 2019, just two days after a probation officer mistakenly signed a certificate telling Moses her probation was complete, officials at the Tennessee department of corrections investigated how exactly their employee made the error. Their investigation didn’t find that Moses had deceived a probation officer, but rather that the officer had made a good-faith mistake.

The review found that the probation officer – referred to as Manager Billington – spent about an hour investigating whether Moses was still on probation. Billington came across a note in Moses’ file noting that in 2016, she had been placed on supervised probation for two years. Even though the system said that Moses remained on unsupervised probation, Billington thought this was a mistake. The person who handled the file, he believed, forgot to close out the case when the supervised probation ran out. That’s why he ultimately signed Moses’ voting certificate saying her probation had expired in 2018 and she was eligible to vote….

Share this:

“Pamela Moses, a Black woman, has been sentenced to six years in prison because of a voting error. Meanwhile, white individuals who are known to have committed blatant voter fraud have only received probation.”

Watch Janai Nelson discuss this case on Maddow.

Sam Levine:

Over the last few months, I’ve been following the case of Pamela Moses, a 44-year-old activist in Memphis who was convicted in November for trying to register to vote while she was ineligible. On Monday, Moses, who is Black, was sentenced to six years and one day in prison.

To my eye, the case is far more complex than it seems.

Amy Weirich, the local prosecutor, has trumpeted both the conviction and the sentence in press releases. She has highlighted that Moses has an extensive criminal record, and she told a straightforward story about Moses’ voting crime. In 2015, Moses pleaded guilty to perjury and tampering with evidence in connection to allegations that she stalked and harassed a local judge. Tampering with evidence is one of a handful of felonies that causes someone to permanently lose their voting rights in Tennessee. Nonetheless, Moses, still on probation, knowingly tried to register to vote in 2019.

The case caught my attention for a few reasons. First, it is rare to see a prosecutor bring criminal charges against someone for election crimes, and I was curious whether this was a bona fide case of fraud or of someone who had made a mistake. Second, there has been growing awareness of racial disparities in punishments for election-related crimes. Black people such as Crystal Mason and Hervis Rogers have faced years in prison for making mistakes about their voting eligibility. White voters have received much lighter sentences for election-related crimes.

Weirich’s office did not respond to interview requests, but the more I looked into Moses’ case, the more I realized the case wasn’t straightforward at all. Behind the scenes, Tennessee officials conceded that they had made a series of mistakes concerning Moses’ voting eligibility.

In 2015, when Moses pleaded guilty to her felony, she says no one told her she couldn’t vote. “They never mentioned anything about voting. They never mentioned anything about not voting, being able to vote … none of that,” Moses told me last year. (She added she hadn’t discussed the case with her two sons, 24 and 13, but described it as “traumatic”.)

Moses didn’t know anything was amiss until 2019, when she launched a long-shot mayoral campaign. Election officials said she couldn’t appear on the ballot because of her felony. When they began to look into her eligibility, they also realized she had never been taken off the voter rolls. Moses went to court and asked a judge to clarify whether she was still on probation, and the court confirmed that she was. What happened next is at the crux of the case against her.

Moses did not believe the judge had correctly calculated her sentence. So she went to the local probation office and asked an officer to figure it out. An officer filled out and signed a certificate confirming her probation had ended. In Tennessee, people with felony convictions who want to vote need that document from a correction official. Moses submitted it to local election officials along with a voter registration form.

But the day afterwards, an official at the corrections department wrote an email to election officials saying a probation officer had made an “error” on Moses’ certificate. Moses was still serving an active felony sentence, they wrote, and was not eligible to vote. The department offered no explanation for the mistake.

Such errors are actually fairly common in Tennessee, where the voting rules are extremely confusing for people with felonies, Blair Bowie, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, told me. A 2017 study found that about 8% of the certificates submitted were rejected because the voters remained ineligible. Bowie said she was unaware of any voter in the state ever facing criminal charges for submitting a certificate but later turning out to be ineligible to vote….

Share this:

Challenge to Minnesota’s Procedures for Restoring Voting Rights to Felons Heard in State Supreme Court

Minnesota Public Radio

Minnesota’s Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a case that may determine whether continuing to disenfranchise voters on parole or on probation violates the state’s constitution. The case turns on the fact that, under the Minnesota precedent, statutes and policies that have a racial disparate impact must meet heightened scrutiny to survive a constitutional challenge.

“It seems to me when you were disenfranchising just huge swaths of the population, particularly when that population are primarily people of color, who the Equal Protection Clause was a design to the very people it was designed to protect,” Hudson said. “How is that the tight fit that Russell [the Minnesota precendent] requires?”

50,000 Minnesotans with active felony records will be affected by the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision.

Share this:

Must Read and Must View Photos: “When It Costs $53,000 to Vote”

Jesse Wegman and Damon Winter for NYT Opinion:

Twenty years ago, Judy Bolden served 18 months in a Florida prison. She has been free ever since, but she is still barred from voting by the state until she pays all court fines and fees associated with her conviction.

When Ms. Bolden sat to be photographed by The Times earlier this year, she said she had received a letter informing her that her outstanding debt was a few hundred dollars. Then she checked the Volusia County website and learned that she actually owes nearly $53,000. “I was so taken aback,” she said. “I was like, What? That’s not right. I was just deflated. It’s like, when is this going to end?”

Ms. Bolden is one of more than 700,000 people in Florida who are barred from voting because they can’t afford the financial obligations stemming from a prior felony conviction. “It’s like I’m not a citizen,” she said. “That’s what they’re saying.”

Earlier this year we asked Floridians whose voting rights had been denied because of a criminal conviction to sit for photographs, wearing a name tag that lists not their name but their outstanding debt — to the extent they can determine it. This number, which many people attempt to tackle in installments as low as $30 a month, represents how much it costs them to win back a fundamental constitutional right, and how little it costs the state to withhold that right and silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of its citizens. The number also echoes the inmate identification number that they were required to wear while behind bars — another mark of the loss of rights and freedoms that are not restored upon release.

Share this: