ORANGE COUNTY, Florida. – When law enforcement began arresting 20 people accused of illegally voting in the 2020 election, there was a common theme among the defendants: they didn’t understand why they were being arrested.
“Electoral fraud? one woman said as she was handcuffed. “I voted, but I did not commit any fraud.”
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News 6 has learned that most, if not all, of those arrested believe their rights were restored because they were allowed to register to vote, including Peter Washington.
Washington served ten years in prison after violating probation on conviction for attempted child sexual assault and was released in 2010.
After Florida voters passed Amendment 4 in 2018, it automatically restored the right to vote for people with previous felony convictions after serving their sentence and paying court costs, except people convicted of murder or a sexual offence.
“They sent me a voter registration card,” Washington told News 6. “That’s what made me think I was eligible to vote or had my rights restored.”
Neil Volz is the executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and said the state needs a centralized database where people with felony convictions can check their eligibility.
“Ultimately, we’re dealing with a data management issue,” Volz said. “So we can just give someone a yes or a no in a short amount of time once they’ve registered to vote.”
“States like Louisiana, states like Alabama, you know, you can go to a website, you can call somebody and get assurances and pre-verification that you’re eligible to vote,” a- he added. “The State of Florida could fix it.”
Former Republican state senator Jeff Brandes drafted the legislation implementing Amendment 4.
“The Secretary of State’s office just has to do its job and list those convicted of felonies, sex offenses or murders. And let’s start there,” Brandes said.
Brandes agreed with Volz that a centralized database would simplify the process.
“It’s pretty simple if someone is convicted of a crime in a county. It gets a lot more complicated when you have multiple crimes in multiple jurisdictions,” Brandes said. “It’s really a question of resources and how many resources the state is willing to devote to solving these problems.”
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition said it believes a data management program could be in place within a year.
Brandes said if the secretary of state’s office needs money to do so, he should ask the legislature for it in the next session.
Among those arrested in central Florida, Washington’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss.
Two other people charged with voter fraud — Michelle Stribling and Jerry Lee Foster — have also been arrested in Orange County.
Stribling is awaiting a skills assessment, and Foster has requested an extension and tentatively has a hearing scheduled for February.
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