Historically disenfranchised voters in Florida worry about their eligibility

Author: Jacqueline Quynh / CBS
Voters in Miami-Dade County. Credit: CBS Miami

Since Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the arrest of 20 felons who illegally voted in the 2020 elections, it’s come to light that some didn’t know they were ineligible to vote. Some even had help to sign up.

Now, it’s casting a cloud of doubt over communities that have historically been disenfranchised.

Dawn Obiediebube remembers thinking of her brother shortly after hearing the governor’s announcement.

“I said to him did you see what happened to the ex-felons and he said yes I have my voter’s registration card, but now I’m afraid to go and vote,” she said.

She believes he’s been clear for years but can’t help feeling worried. “It just frightens me to even think that if he just goes and casts a vote that he’ll be put in jail.”

Obiediebube came out of the Miami-Dade County Black Affairs Advisory Board to voice her concerns.

“My brother has been contributing to society for the last 10-15 years, he has a CDL license. He’s a driver, so he’s providing a very well-needed service. He’s married now, he has children, he has grandchildren,” she told CBS4.

Under Florida law, a person is eligible to vote again once they have served their sentence, except in cases of murder or a sexual offense.

Stephen Hunter Johnson an attorney on the board says, some don’t even realize they have to pay back money to complete their sentence.

“When I tell you that your rights are automatically restored once you have finished your sentence but I leave out the part that says your sentence includes paying the fines, court costs, attorney fees and interests, we’re talking interests now at the point. We’re not making it so that people readily understand,” he explained.

CBS4 reached out to the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections about why some felons who could not vote were able to get a voting card in the first place.

The office wrote, “All 67 counties in the State of Florida receive and process voter registration applications.”

The voter registration applications are sent from the County to the Florida Department of State Division of Elections for verification of identity.

The state uses a number of databases to confirm a person’s identity including Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and Florida Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, among others.

After the verification process has been completed, the state notifies the county that the person’s eligibility has been confirmed. Finally, the county issues a voter registration card to the elector. If a person has been convicted of a felony, the state notifies the county and the county removes the person from their voter roll.”

Looking at recent statistics from Pew Research, Black people disproportionately make up a percentage of those incarcerated, so casting doubt over voter eligibility could have a chilling effect.

“Now, they a question mark, if I do, will I get arrested again? And violate my probation, end up back where I want to forget that I’ve ever been, I think that really preys on the feelings and emotions of a community,” Pierre Rutledge, board chair said.

Rutledge wants a database that shows election officials who are eligible from the point of registry so there is no confusion; that is, no one gets a card who isn’t able to vote.

“It saddens me to my core, it’s really targeted at a certain group of people, people that like me and it’s unfortunate,” Obiediebube concluded.

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