ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Two people accused of voting illegally in the 2020 election told News 6 they believed they were eligible to vote.
They were both mentioned by Gov. Ron DeSantis during his announcement of 20 felons who were arrested on suspicion of illegally voting in the 2020 election.
It was the first public outcome of the state’s newly formed Office of Election Crimes and Security.
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Orange County records show Peter Washington, 59, pled no contest to a felony offense of attempted sexual battery of a child in 1996 and served 10 years in prison.
For the last 12 years, Washington turned his life around, held down a job and started a family, he told News 6.
A series of events led him to believe he was eligible to vote after Amendment 4 passed, he said.
“I’m angry, but I’m also hurt,” Washington told News 6.
DeSantis announced the arrests at a press conference in Ft. Lauderdale last week.
“They are disqualified from voting because they’ve been convicted of either murder or sexual assault, and they do not have the right to vote,” DeSantis told reporters.
Washington said he thought his rights had been restored.
“Why am I being accused of something that I didn’t deceitfully do?” Washington asked.
In 1996, Washington pled no contest to the felony offense and was given probation, but he kept violating probation by not registering with the state properly, according to the probable cause affidavit and state records.
Because of the violation, in 2001, he served nearly 10 years in prison and was released in November 2010.
Washington said he has tried to be a model citizen by starting his own business and starting a family.
“I’m just trying to live and be successful,” Washington said.
In 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4 to automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions upon completion of their sentences, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.
Under the law, felons are not allowed to sit on juries, but “Washington received jury summons on three separate occasions which he reported for,” according to the probable cause affidavit.
“That’s what made me think that I was eligible to vote or my rights were reinstated. Because you can’t be on a jury duty unless your rights are being reinstated,” Washington said.
Urged by his wife, Washington said that in 2019, he filled out a Florida Voter Application and received a voter information card with a Voter ID, according to the affidavit.
Washington went to the polls with his wife in person and asked questions.
“We showed them the ID. We showed them the voter card. We said, ‘Is this valid?’“ Washington said.
Election workers told him it was valid, according to Washington.
“That’s the only reason I walked in there and voted,” Washington said.
Michelle Stribling, 52, also told News 6 she legitimately thought she was eligible to vote.
“This is a misunderstanding. I didn’t mean no harm about this.” Stribling said.
Orange County records show Stribling was convicted after admitting to second-degree murder in 1993 and served 11 years in prison.
“I’m doing the right thing. I stay out of trouble. I do right by the law. I don’t get in trouble no more,” Stribling said
Stribling said that she cannot read or write, and she registered to vote at church.
She asked for assistance in completing the application, and the individual who was getting people registered would not assist her, according to Stribling’s probable cause affidavit.
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“I just marked whatever I marked on the paper,” Stribling admitted.
Stribling checked the box saying she is not a convicted felon but says she didn’t know what it said.
She told detectives she thought her rights were restored “when she later received a voter registration card,” according to the affidavit.
“Now, all of a sudden, they say I can’t vote. That don’t make no sense,” she said.
Why were Stribling and Washington issued a Voter ID?
Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles released a statement after the arrests.
“Once a new or current registered voter is identified with a criminal record, the Florida Division of Elections prepares a packet with the individual’s documentations for the appropriate Supervisor of Elections,” Cowles wrote.
“If we do not receive a packet from the state, we remain unaware of the individual’s conviction,” Cowles wrote.
After the arrests, Sen. Jeff Brandes, who authored Amendment Four, tweeted video of the governor’s press conference.
“It was our intent that those ineligible would be granted some grace by the state if they registered without intent to commit fraud,” Brandes wrote.
“Some of the individuals did check with (supervisors of elections) and believed they could register,” Brandes wrote.
Washington said the worst part has been unintentionally hurting his wife.
“I don’t even want to talk about that it hurts,” Washington said. “It hurts. I tried to be strong for her, but it hurts... She has been nothing but an angel to me.”
Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which supported the passage of Amendment 4, said it is raising funds to provide bail for those arrested on accusations of voter fraud.
During a scheduled weekend convention at the Doubletree Seaworld in Orlando Friday, FRRC discussed the recent arrests with News 6.
“There’s one instance where a gentleman was talking about how he hadn’t voted in decades, and he had been told by his government that he could,” FRRC Deputy Director Neil Volz said. “And what an experience. He was like, ‘I want to be a part of my community.’”
According to Volz, those arrested for voter fraud don’t seem to be wholly responsible.
“That isn’t the sound of somebody committing voter fraud,” Volz said. “That’s somebody operating in a system that doesn’t work right.”