ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – When law enforcement officers began arresting 20 people charged with illegally voting in the 2020 election, there was a common theme among those accused: they didn’t understand why they were being arrested.
“Voter fraud?” one woman said while being handcuffed. “I voted, but I didn’t commit no fraud.”
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News 6 has learned that most, if not all, of those arrested thought their rights had been 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 sexual battery of a child and was released in 2010.
After Florida voters passed Amendment 4 in 2018, it automatically restored the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions after completing their sentences and paying court fees — except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.
“They sent me a voter registration card,” Washington told News 6. “That’s what made me think I was eligible to vote or my rights were reinstated.”
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 problem,” Volz said. “So that we can simply give somebody a yes or no in a short period of time once they register to vote.”
“States like Louisiana, states like Alabama, you know, you can go to a website, you can call somebody and get assurances and verification on the front end that you’re eligible to vote,” he added. “The state of Florida could fix it.”
Former Republican State Sen. Jeff Brandes wrote the implementing legislation for Amendment 4.
“The secretary of state’s office just needs to do its job and compile the list of people who are convicted of felonies or sexual offences or murder. And let’s start there,” Brandes said.
Brandes agreed with Volz that a centralized database would simplify the process.
“It’s fairly simple if somebody is convicted of one felony in one county. It gets much more complicated when you have multiple felonies in multiple jurisdictions,” Brandes said. “It’s just really a question of resources and how much resources the state is willing to put into solving these problems.”
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition said it believes a data management program could be put together inside of one year.
Brandes said that if the Secretary of State’s Office needs the money to do it, they should be asking the legislature for it during the next session.
Of the people arrested in Central Florida, Washington’s attorney has filed a motion to dismiss.
Two others facing charges of voter fraud — Michelle Stribling and Jerry Lee Foster — were also arrested in Orange County.
Stribling is awaiting a competency evaluation, and Foster has asked for a continuance and tentatively has a hearing set for February.
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