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Bill Maher Grills Ron DeSantis Over Arrests of Black Voters in Florida

When Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday, the host needled him on the state’s actions in going after those voting ineligibly in Florida elections.

“Your state voted to revive voting rights to felons, after which through some political (expletive) jujitsu that got undone,” Maher said.

He’s referring to 2018’s Amendment 4, which aimed to revive voting rights to 1.4 million people barred due to past felony convictions, excluding murder or sexual offenses.

Months later, the Legislature passed a bill signed into law by DeSantis to maintain lots of of hundreds of felons from becoming eligible to vote until they met all their past legal financial obligations.

“That amendment didn’t include murderers or sex offenders,” DeSantis said. “So we had sex offenders who voted who weren’t eligible under that amendment, so we held them accountable.”

Before the 2022 midterm election, DeSantis announced a batch of arrests of people that voted despite having previous murder or sexual offenses. Most of those arrested were Black, were issued voter registration cards and said they thought they were eligible to vote. Voting rights advocates say the arrests scared many eligible voters from the polls.

“It looks such as you’re just attempting to stop Black people from voting,” Maher said.

“That is nonsense,” DeSantis replied.

Hours before, police arrested a Black woman in Florida’s capital county for voter fraud. Marsha Ervin said she’d believed she was capable of vote. She’d been issued a voter registration card. She learned she wasn’t eligible when the identical government got here for her.

What happened in Leon County

Ervin, 69, was arrested Friday — lower than a month from the day her probation was slated to finish — after being under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Election Crime Unit for nearly a 12 months.

In keeping with court records, Ervin was convicted of aggravated neglect of an elderly person in 2016, and her probation began November 2018. She registered to vote in Leon County in September 2020 and voted in person the following month throughout the 2020 general election, after which voted again within the 2022 primary election by mail.

“Ervin was serving probation for a felony offense wherein she was adjudicated guilty, and had not accomplished all terms of her sentence; subsequently, Ervin was not eligible to vote nor register to vote,” records say.

Two months after she mailed in her ballot, an FDLE inspector contacted Ervin in October 2022 informing her a criminal investigation was underway.

She also told investigators she thought she was allowed to vote because “she was told she could when she was released from prison” and native TV news stories that “indicated felons could vote.” An investigator obtained documents from the Florida Department of Corrections showing that she wasn’t provided any information by the prison indicating whether she could or couldn’t vote.

“(Ervin said) she wouldn’t have voted if she believed it was against the law because she just got out of prison and had begun probation,” records say.

The governor’s office, the governor’s campaign and the Division of Elections didn’t reply to media requests.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said this was his area’s first voter fraud arrest under DeSantis. He said the Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security – a team created by DeSantis to research voter fraud – had reached out last 12 months about records of around a dozen individuals who allegedly voted while ineligible. Ervin was certainly one of them.

In Florida, Earley said there wasn’t much pre-vetting when someone registered to vote. “Unless the potential voter asks for it,” he said. “There may be a process. It’s not very well-used, and it’s very cumbersome.”

He’s referring to contacting the state Division of Elections and requesting an advisory opinion. It’s given 21 opinions to this point in 2023, in accordance with its website.

“I feel most of those instances are honest mistakes, people not understanding what the necessities are,” Earley said. “I feel honest mistakes can easily occur.”

And, due to fears people have of getting arrested, he said there’s been eligible people apprehensive about registering to vote. “I feel the headlines are going to reaffirm that individuals must be concerned about that; it’s unlucky,” he said. “There was a promise with Amendment 4. The promise was so long as you weren’t convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, when you accomplished your sentencing, you robotically had your rights restored. Actually the implementing laws and guidelines which have come down have complicated that immensely.”

To deal with a few of the complications, he said his office is working to publicize the advisory opinion process and developing an internet site to assist people use it. His office stresses to third-party voter registration organizations that they need to emphasize to potential applicants that, in the event that they’ve been convicted of a felony, to ensure they’re eligible. “It could be nice if there was an easy, streamlined way for somebody who has been convicted of a felony to confirm whether all their sentencing requirements have been fulfilled,” he said. “Immediately, there’s not a superb way.”

Still waiting for answer from DeSantis:

The subsequent big query for DeSantis amid confusion over Florida voter fraud crackdown | Evaluation

DeSantis’ pause on civil rights honors:

Florida religious leaders denounce DeSantis’ years-long pause of Civil Rights Hall of Fame inductions

A brand new system?

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition spearheaded the 2018 Amendment 4 campaign. Now, it’s accusing the state of working against the resultant rights restoration and failing to assist voters determine eligibility, going to this point as to file a federal lawsuit over the summer.

Within the meantime, the group has pro-bono attorneys helping voters determine their eligibility.

“Should you need a lawyer to find out whether you’re eligible to vote or not, then we don’t have the most effective process,” said Neil Volz, the coalition’s deputy director. “Should you’re running for president saying Florida’s the gold standard, let’s actually create the gold standard.”

Despite the changes made by the Legislature after voters approved it, the amendment never allowed people still on felony probation to vote, identical to it never allowed those with felony murder and sex offenses. But, still, persons are confused about how the laws apply to them. Under Florida statute, the onus is on the voter to get it right.

“Should you can’t count on the federal government to inform you whether you’re eligible to vote or not, who are you able to count on?” Volz said. “I feel [the state should] stop arresting people until we will fix the issue… fairly than spend money on investigations, law enforcement and bringing people out of their homes and arresting them.”

Volz said it was an information management challenge that, if prioritized by state officials, may very well be fixed. If someone has an excellent effective for a driving violation, he said, DMV locations across the state would refuse to grant that person a license. It could be in its system.

“We have now all the info we want to make the verification work for voting in Florida,” Volz said. “It’s just not as high of a priority as other things.”

Along with Ervin’s case, other arrests have been made this 12 months in Florida. For instance, Toye La Rocca, 63, of Fort Walton Beach was arrested for voting while still on probation. She told investigators she voted because she was confused, in accordance with her arrest warrant. She pointed to how she had been issued a voter registration card.

One other highlight on Florida

From the tv interview to the arrest, one other highlight has been placed on Florida’s elections system. DeSantis himself and his conservative allies hail that system because the “gold standard,” whilst they’ve made sweeping – and what they call proactive – changes to it.

“Twenty years ago, no one thought Florida was a chief example of the best way to conduct elections, but we now have turn into a national leader by running essentially the most secure elections within the country,” DeSantis said after signing an election bill into law last 12 months. “We’d like to do more to make sure our elections remain secure”

Democrats and voting rights advocacy, meanwhile, call lots of those changes voter suppression. “Once you add all this stuff up that the governor has put in place, I’m not surprised Mr. Maher said that’s what it looks like,” said Cecile Scoon, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

She pointed to not only the arrests but past measures created by DeSantis and legislative Republicans which have, for instance, targeted third-party voter registration organizations, which register people of color to vote at a high rate, and removed predominantly Black voting districts.

“You have got a governor, and the law enforcement, and all the opposite organs of presidency, that seemingly are targeting one group of individuals greater than others, that must be concerning to each American,” Scoon said.

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