Officially registered

Supporters stand with Ervin as she registers to vote

Supporters of Marsha Ervin surrounded her after she registered to vote.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Marsha Ervin completes her voter registration form at Ian V. Sancho Leon County Election Center.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Sixty-nine-year-old Marsha Ervin didn’t say a lot on the day that she fearlessly registered to vote. 

A crowd of supporters who turned out at the Ian V. Sancho Leon County Election Center last Wednesday had plenty to say, though. They denounced action by law enforcement that led to Ervin’s arrest in the wee hours of Sept. 29, and questioned obvious voter suppression laws that make it difficult for eligible individual to register to vote.

After several robust speeches, Erving was ushered into the election building to complete her registration to vote. 

“Thank you everybody,” Ervin said after completing her paperwork, “but most of all thank you, Jesus.”

Ervin’s arrest in September stemmed from when she voted twice during a two-year span. She was charged with false voter registration and voting as an ineligible elector.

However, those charges were dropped by State Attorney Jack Campbell earlier this month. That followed an aggressive effort by civil rights attorney Ben Crump and attorney Mutaqee Akbar, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, to drop the charges.

“This is a victory. This is love. This is what joy feels like,” said Marie Rattigan, vice president of the local NAACP.

Attorneys Crump and Akbar were also able to get the final month of Ervin’s probation waived. Ervin was convicted of aggravated neglect of an elderly person in 2016. She was released two years later with probation.

Ervin, who wore a fleece jacket with the word “champion” across the chest, was given a heroine’s greeting as she approached the election office. Supporters gathered around her and immediately started singing “Victory is mine” a spiritual made popular by Dorothy Norwood.

Erving’s presence, Akbar said, shows her determination to continue to participate in the political system.

“We want to send a message to everybody, including our returning citizens that it’s OK,” Akbar said. “Come on out here and register and be a part of this process because as long as they are a part of this process we can stop laws like we have Gestapos to go arrest a woman at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Voting rights were restored for ex-felons after a 2018 constitutional amendment garnered 65 percent of the votes. But the Republican-controlled Legislature passed laws that voting rights advocates have found to be cumbersome.

During the legislative session completed this past spring, a measure that established the Office of Election Crimes and Security was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Ervin’s registration to vote was seemingly somewhat of a vindication for her supporters.

“This is what people power looks like,” said City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow. “Our democracy is founded on one person, one vote and we’ve seen tremendous effort by the governor (and) state officials to suppress our vote because they are scared. 

“They know when people show up to vote, they go for what’s good for everyday people. They want people to think they would be arrested when they go out to vote and they knew they were setting them up. It was a vindictive, evil-spirited thing to do (to Ervin). Today we are here to celebrate the actual rule of law. We all have the right to vote and we are going to fight for it every chance we get.”

City Commissioner Jack Porter said she showed up to help right a wrong that was done by law enforcement.

“Justice is served today. Today is a day for celebration but also a day for accountability,” Porter said. “We could not overlook the role that our law enforcement and criminal justice system had in bringing us to this point.” 

Several of the speakers who preceded Ervin’s registering, called out efforts by Florida legislators and DeSantis to suppress Black voters.

“This is important, not just for Tallahassee, but it’s important for all of America,” Crump said after Ervin registered. “November is coming and we’re going to vote and aint nothing you can do about it.”

On the day that charges against Ervin were dropped, the  NAACP called on the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections to “establish a new checkbox for ex-felons” to know if they are eligible to vote. Each of Florida’s 67 counties has a data base but they are not compatible to each other. 

Ex-felon in Leon County could check their status with the Clerk of Courts office, said Mark Earley, the county’s supervisor of election. Earley also played a pivotal role in charges against Ervin being dropped.

“People like Ms. Ervin should not fall through the cracks,” Earley said. “There needs to be a nice, easy way with regards to guidelines and the completion of what they are required to do so that they don’t make a mistake like this.”

What transpired in the election office speaks volume for disenfranchised people, Crump said.

Those who showed up “believe in the American constitution promise that every American citizen has the right to vote,” Crump said. “This is a victory over the enemies of equality who want to suppress the vote of marginalized people, especially Black and Brown people. Well, news flash: America wins today, democracy wins today, the constitution wins today. Marsha Ervin wins today.”

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