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Voting rights groups sue over Florida's 'inadequate' voter registration form

a sign says "three ways to vote...vote here"
Alejandro Santiago
/
WFSU Public Media

Voting rights groups say Florida’s voter registration form is flawed and it’s leading to people’s arrest. The Florida League of Women Voters and Florida chapter of the NAACP filed suit last week alleging the form violates the National Voter Registration Act.

The current form asks registrants to check a box affirming they are either not a felon or that their right has been restored. The voting rights groups argue that’s not enough information about who is and isn’t eligible.

ACLU attorney Jonathan Topaz calls the form “inadequate and unlawful in light of the incredibly confusing voter eligibility system that Florida has in place for returning citizens."

Topaz works with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. The ACLU is representing the League of Women Voters and the NAACP in the case.

A lot of the confusion stems from Amendment 4—passed by voters back in 2018. It was touted as a way to automatically restore the voting rights of felons who had completed their sentences, with a few exceptions. In 2019, lawmakers passed implementing rules that said completing a sentence means a person also has to pay all their court fines and fees. The issue has been at the center of litigation for years and unless you’re an expert, Topaz says figuring out who qualifies can be confusing.

“The state deliberately made a complete hash out of Amendment 4 and has done basically everything possible to make it harder for returning citizens to vote and for returning citizens to make informed decisions about their voter registration status,” Topaz says.

Topaz says that confusion has led to arrests. Last year, Florida’s newly created elections police force arrested 20 former felons on charges they voted illegally. Governor Ron DeSantis touted the move during a press event. He says those arrested didn't qualify to have their rights restored under Amendment 4 because they had been convicted of either murder or sexual assault. But, they thought their right to vote had been restored. Many of the people arrested had even received voter ID cards from their local election supervisors. Charges in several of the cases have since been dropped. But the voting rights groups are asking for the form to be changed to hopefully prevent similar mistakes in the future.

Topaz says the state shouldn’t punish people who are trying their best to follow the rules.

“And that appears to be what they are doing—which is arresting and prosecuting folks who appear to be making good faith decisions about their voter eligibility and this lawsuit is just one step that we hope will ease the burden that returning citizens are forced to carry," Topaz says.

In the lawsuit, the organizations argue the current voter registration form violates the American Voter Registration Act, which requires the form to explain each eligibility requirement under law. They’re asking a judge to put an injunction in place stopping the use of the current form and replacing it with a form that includes information about the ineligibility of people who are on parole, who have outstanding court fines and fees, or people convicted of murder or a felony sex offense.

The form has been changed in the past. In 2019 the state added three check boxes for eligibility information for former felons, but the organizations say it was confusing, didn’t cover all eligibility circumstances and left some people with no box to check. That form was the subject of a previous lawsuit and the court blocked the state from using it. So the state reverted back to using a form created in 2013 before Amendment 4 was ever passed.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy covers healthcare and government in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories here.
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