Election fraud arrests spur call for database petition

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Passage of Amendment 4 in 2018 meant that former felons would be able to vote. Four years later there is confusion and fear following the arrest of 19 people by officers from the Office of Election Crimes and Security.

The arrests came after the primary election in August. However, release of videos of some of the returning citizens being taken away in handcuffs prompted the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to call for a voter eligibility database to quell further arrests.

Neil Volz, Deputy Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, also announced last Wednesday that a bail fund and legal fee fund have been established by FRRC.

The FRRC was joined by attorney Aidil Oscariz and Nicole Porter, senior director of advocacy for the Sentencing Project at a state-wide press conference last Wednesday. 

“What we’ve seen on the video is a human face on a broken system,” Volz said during the virtual press conference. “We know where the system is broken; it’s broken on the front end of the process.

 “The human heart aches from what we are seeing in those videos.”

 Gov. Ron DeSantis created the Office of Election Crimes and Security earlier this year. It is one of several acts taken by Republican governors around the country in response to former President Donald Trump’s unproven claim about fraud in the 2020 election.

Outrage over the arrests swirled across the state after the Tampa Bay Times published a video it obtained by public request. All of the arrested individuals said they were registered to vote and were bewildered when officers showed up to handcuff them.

As a result of the arrests, Volz said the FRRC is having a tough time convincing former felons who meet the stipulations in the constitutional amendment that they are free to vote. 

Oscariz, one of several attorneys providing pro bono service to the former felons, said the incidents that followed the primary election is “an injustice.”

She added that she’s seen the uncertainty caused by the arrests.

“It’s causing a lot of confusion,” she said, “a lot of fear so we have attorneys standing by to answer questions.”

Tallahassee pastor Gregory James, a recent candidate for the state house Seat 8, said he’s seen the same hesitancy about voting by former felons. James is a former felon who helped to lead the campaign for passage of Amendment 4.

His challenge is “convincing them that the system works,” said James, who is currently involved with an effort to get men out to vote. “The biggest thing is educating people on the fact that it’s not a gimmick. They (law enforcement officers) are not trying to do anything to jeopardize your freedom.”

Amendment 4 requires felons to pay “financial obligations” that remain after they are released. That includes all restitutions before becoming eligible to vote. Former felons also have to fulfill all other terms of their sentence, including probation and parole.

However, that does not apply to former felons convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.

Following the overwhelming yes that voters gave Amendment 4, voting rights restoration supporters launched a campaign to help former felons meet their financial obligations. Celebrities who helped the cause included John Legend, LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

At the same time, former Leon County Commissioner Bob Rackleff and his Big Bend Voting Rights Project were registering former felons. 

Rackleff said he anticipates that the government will have a tough case to prove that any of the individuals who were arrested did so as a “willful act.” He agreed with Amendment 4 proponents who say former felons are faced with double jeopardy.

“Of course, they have paid their dues,” Rackleff said.

Meanwhile, Porter said the Sentencing Project is in support of the FRRC efforts.

“We are outraged by these developments and are ready and willing to support folks in Florida to guarantee their access to the vote and to help guarantee democracy; not just in Florida but across this country,” she said. “What we are seeing in Florida is absolutely egregious. These videos are heartbreaking.

“Every human being in Florida deserves the opportunity to make their voice heard.”