DeSantis, Florida officials sued over felon voter eligibility rules, ‘election police’

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition says state violating felons’ voting rights

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition leaders Desmond Meade and Neal Volz.

ORLANDO, Fla. – A new federal lawsuit accuses Florida officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, of purposely making it difficult for convicted felons to determine their voter eligibility, and using the state’s Office of Election Crimes and Security to intimidate, all in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and four Florida residents filed the lawsuit against DeSantis, Secretary of State Cord Byrd, and county elections supervisors on Wednesday, along with county clerks of the court.

The FRRC is the organization that created Amendment 4 in 2018, which was approved by Florida voters. The amendment allowed most felons who completed their sentence to have their voting rights automatically restored. The exception was felons with a murder conviction or a conviction for felony sexual offense.

However, in implementing the amendment, the Florida Legislature required that felons must pay any “legal financial obligation (LFO)” as part of completing a sentence, including court fines and fees and other restitution.

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FRRC said the state does not have an accessible system to help people determine their eligibility, and their organization has been forced to divert resources to help people track down this information, and sometimes the information is unavailable or inaccurate.

“In other words, as a consequence of the Defendants’ actions, FRRC now spends a large amount of its time and financial resources assisting people with prior felony convictions in navigating an incomprehensible state labyrinth in what should be an unnecessary effort to help them restore their voting rights,” the lawsuit shows.

News 6′s Louis Bolden went in-depth on this problem in an episode of Solutionaries earlier this year.


The lawsuit also shows the state does not have a proper system to inform Florida residents of their eligibility to vote. As a result, some convicted felons who thought that they had paid off their LFOs and registered to vote, and even voted, later learned that the court system still had outstanding LFOs on their books.

Or, in some cases, felons who thought they were eligible to vote registered and received a voter information card, only to find out later that they should not have been allowed to vote.

In 2022, DeSantis announced the arrests of 20 people who had voted illegally in the 2020 election, all of whom were former convicted felons, with an announcement that were many more arrests coming.

News 6 investigated the cases of some of the arrestees and found that for many of them, they believed their rights had been restored. They registered to vote and received a voter information card from the state, and believed they were voting in good faith.

In the case of Peter Washington, one of the Orange County arrestees, the state did not notify the county’s supervisor of elections office until a month after the 2020 election that Washington was ineligible to vote. Washington had registered to vote and was sent a voter information card.


Washington’s case was dismissed, though the state has appealed that decision.

The FRRC said that other former felons who saw the governor’s announcement and the subsequent reports in the news were deterred from voting in 2022 for fear that their own records were not accurate and they would be arrested.

“The Defendants have continued to disenfranchise these citizens by abandoning the state’s legal obligation to determine voters’ eligibility; providing false information to potential voters; premising voter eligibility on the payment of financial obligations unrelated to their right to vote; and creating a new law enforcement agency that has orchestrated a campaign of arrests that have sent a message that voting, even in good faith, may result in arrest and prosecution,” the lawsuit alleges.

The FRRC is asking the court to declare the state’s implementation of Amendment 4 unconstitutional, and require the state to establish a reliable database so that felons can determine what their outstanding LFOs are and how they can pay them, and also review the cases of felons who have registered to vote to make sure they are eligible.

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About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.