FIGHTING VOTER INTIMIDATION
Florida Rights Restoration Coalition v. DeSantis
A Nobel Peace Prize-nominated voting rights organization and Florida citizens are suing Governor Ron DeSantis and state officials for voter intimidation and disenfranchisement.
In a major Voting Rights Act lawsuit, FRRC and intimidated Florida voters are accusing state officials of a yearslong campaign to intimidate and prevent people with previous convictions from voting. The lawsuit comes as other states consider replicating Florida’s “Election Police” force.
Ever since Florida restored voting rights to 1.4 million individuals with previous convictions in 2018, state officials have created a bureaucratic morass that prevents those citizens from actually voting. And now, according to the lawsuit, DeSantis’ highly-publicized deployment of a statewide “election police” squad constitutes illegal intimidation under the Voting Rights Act.
In 2018, an overwhelming majority of Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to people with previous felony convictions. At the time it was passed, it was estimated that more than 1.4 million Floridians — almost 7% of the state’s population — would have their rights restored, representing the largest mass enfranchisement of voters in the U.S. in decades. However, as alleged in the lawsuit, DeSantis and other officials have worked since 2018 to undermine Amendment 4 by:
- Providing inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading information to potential voters who try to determine their eligibility to vote,
- Creating a byzantine process in which voter eligibility is determined by varying local practices depending on where the potential voter lives, and
- Since 2022, creating, publicizing, and deploying an “election police” unit to arrest people for having voted, including some people who were encouraged to register to vote and provided with a voter ID from the Florida Secretary of State.
In one example, on August 18, 2022, DeSantis announced that he and his administration had orchestrated the arrest and prosecution of 20 individuals who had voted in the 2020 elections, and warned that there would be “many more” arrests to come. However, as detailed in the lawsuit, many of the people arrested had no intent to violate the law, and some of them had been issued voter identification cards by the state.
According to the lawsuit, the Governor’s creation and amplification of the Office of Election Crimes and Security and its campaign of arrests have created “a climate of intimidation” even among people who believe in good faith that they are eligible to vote. This, coupled with the earlier roadblocks to voter registration, has turned the simple act of voting into a complicated and risky venture in the eyes of those who were re-enfranchised.
FRRC and the intimidated voters are seeking a declaration that Florida’s implementation of Amendment 4 is unconstitutional and illegal under the Voting Rights Act; the creation of a statewide database for potential voters to determine their eligibility; and the appointment a federal monitor.
FRRC and the intimidated voters are represented pro bono by Free + Fair, Arnold & Porter, and Weil Gotshal & Manges.
"This is just a more sophisticated version of the conduct that caused the Voting Rights Act to be passed in the first place,” said Carey Dunne of the Free + Fair Litigation Group, which is handling the case.
Publication July 19, 2023