Neil Volz from the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition in the Florida House building on March 29, 2023 (photo credit: Mitch Perry)
Last summer, more than a dozen convicted murderers and sex offenders were arrested under a shakedown by the DeSantis administration for allegedly voting illegally. Some of those individuals arrested for voter fraud later said that they received information from their local government that they were eligible to vote.
Wednesday in a House committee, Miami Democrat Ashley Gantt proposed a bill (HB 501) to ensure that certain individuals will be informed that they won’t be able to vote.
Her bill would add language to what is known as the Criminal Punishment Code “scoresheet” that is already currently prepared by the state attorney and presented to the defense counsel and then to the sentencing judge before the defendant is sentenced. That scoresheet informs the state, defense attorney and the defendant if he or she is eligible for prison or probation.
“What this bill does is it adds a notice to what charges are eligible or ineligible for voting,” Gantt told the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. “So if you’re charged with one of the delineating charges that exempts you from ever being able to vote in the state of Florida, it is put on the scoresheet.”
More than 64% of Floridians approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 automatically restoring the right to vote for all felons who had completed their sentence, with the exception of those convicted of murder or a sexual offense. The Florida Legislature amended that proposal in 2019 to mandate that only those individuals who had paid all fines, fees and restitution would be eligible.
Neil Volz, the deputy director with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said the bill will provide some much-needed clarity to the process.
“We think that there need to be a lot of steps in terms of creating a process – especially on the front end – that gives returning citizens the clarity around their situation, and also we need to start talking about how do we protect people who have heard from the government that they’re eligible from any sort of prosecution going forward. If the government can’t tell you whether you’re eligible to vote, who can?” he said at the end of the committee meeting.
In addition, more than four years after the passage of Amendment 4, the state has yet to create a central database of information that would inform people who committed felonies but completed their sentences in Florida whether or not they’re eligible to vote.
Speaking before the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability Wednesday, Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd said that the creation of such a portal was beyond his agency’s purview and would require input from the judicial and legislative branches.
“That takes the Department of Corrections, the judicial system, our system all talking to each other,” he said. “It’s probably worth a conversation about what that would take and the resources that the Legislature would have to provide, but in the interim, I’m trying to facilitate the conversations so that we can improve that process now where we can.”
Volz said if it was truly a priority, the state Legislature could make it happen.
“This is really an information management issue and we know that when there’s a will there’s a way, and so it’s really good to see support in the committee on a bipartisan basis and taking a proper step forward to allow returning citizens to participate in democracy,” he said.
The bill passed on Wednesday with unanimous support, but the measure will be considered in other House committees. The Senate version (SB 1696), sponsored by South Florida Democrat Shevrin Jones, has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing.
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