Inequality in Criminal Justice System? Voter Fraud Sentences for Florida Inmates
June 30, 2022 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, News & Announcements Social Share
Voter fraud is taken very seriously in the state of Florida. In 2018, there was an amendment made to the statute for voting in the state. The amendment made it legal for felons to vote if they’ve already completed their sentences.
However, in the most recent election, there were 10 convicted felons that got arrested for voter fraud. Now there is some confusion over what exactly the rules are, and how there are various legal challenges surrounding the bill.
We will cover the details of the voter fraud bill and its newest amendment, along with examples of cases of individuals who have been arrested due to voter fraud.
Amendment 4 in Florida
Florida Statute Section 104 covers the state’s laws on election codes and violations. Under the law, it describes consideration for registration, fraud in casting a vote, vote-selling, and other characteristics. Violating the statute’s rules can result in penalties ranging from a second-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.
In 2018, two-thirds of Florida voters approved Amendment 4 in an overwhelming decision. The Constitutional Amendment 4 covers voting rights for felons—specifically restoring their eligibility to vote. The original amendment restored the voting rights of about 1.4 million people in the state.
However, it wasn’t long after the bill was voted for that the GOP-controlled legislature passed another version of the law. This amendment to the law says that it is required to pay any outstanding financial burdens attached to the felony. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law in 2019, which cut out roughly 774,000 individuals from restoring their voting rights.
Under the amendment, an individual who was a convicted felon restores their eligibility to vote if they have completed all terms of his or her sentence. “Completion of sentence” refers to the following:
- Time required to stay in jail or prison;
- Parole, probation, or other forms of supervision; and
- Payment of the total amount of all fines, costs, and restitution ordered as part of the felony sentence.
The exception for the bill is that a felon who was convicted of murder or sexual felony charge would not get their voting rights restored. Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized the language of the amendment and its ability to restore rights for felons who were convicted of violent charges.
“Including felons convicted of attempted robbery and kidnapping, so as long as those felons completed all terms of their sentence,” DeSantis wrote. “I think this was a mistake and would not want to compound that mistake by bestowing blanket benefits on violent offenders.”
The amendment states that an individual can petition to terminate their financial obligation (fine, fee, cost, restitution), or choose to complete community service instead. That means the terms of the service would be considered complete once they have completed the community service option they opted for.
A convicted felon who wishes to register to vote can consult with the Public Defender’s office, the State Attorney’s office, or the Circuit Court in the county of conviction to figure out if any special programs exist to help facilitate other options.
The issue of the amendment appears to lie within the lack of information going to the convicted felons who wish to register and cast their vote. For instance, individuals have reported that they were unaware of any outstanding fines or fees that they had to pay back to the court.
Daniel Dion Roberts, 48, is a convicted felon who has just been sentenced to 3 years in prison for voter fraud. Roberts is the first of 10 former and current inmates from Alachua County jail who have been charged with voter fraud. Roberts has been sentenced as part of a plea deal, in which he admitted to voter fraud and provided false information on the voter registration.
So what exactly was Roberts’ fault that resulted in a voter fraud charge? He simply registered to vote. While still an inmate in the Alachua County jail in 2020, Roberts was approached by officials from the county Supervisor of Elections office. The officials went to the jail to encourage and help inmates vote in the 2020 election. The inmates they were helping were only in jail for misdemeanors, meaning that they never lost their ability to vote.
The problem was that the officials did not have access to any of the case files of the inmates they were helping. They did not know which inmates had prior felony convictions. They also had no idea whether the inmates had any outstanding fees or fines in relation to their past felony convictions.
The inmates approached by the officials were only given the option to sign up for voter registration by signing that they had completed all the terms of their sentence. It is suspected that inmates were not aware of any fines they still had to pay, or that they were breaking the law.
Another inmate from Alachua County jail, Dedrick De’Ron Baldwin, explained that he had no idea that he was ineligible. “They told us that if we weren’t already convicted of our current crime then we were able to sign up and vote,” he wrote from inside the jail. “They probably signed up 65-70 people up that day, so I don’t understand how I can be charged with voter misconduct. All I was doing was what they told me I had the right to do.”
Now the FDLE has said that the mass registering that took place in the Alachua County jail could compromise Florida’s voter registration integrity. The 10 arrests have stemmed from an investigation that started from a complaint filed by a Gainesville database researcher and programmer. Mark Glaeser claimed he found around 100 people from Alachua County who had registered or voted illegally.
Luckily in Roberts’ case, his agreement for the 3-year sentence can run concurrently with the 6-year sentence that he already was completing for a domestic battery and weapons charge. That means he will not spend any additional time behind bars for the voter fraud charge. However, not all inmates may be as lucky. We will continue to review how the case of Alachua unfolds, and if there are any more inmates charged with voter fraud.
On April 25th, 2022, Gov. DeSantis signed SB 524 which is titled Election Administration. The bill is meant to ensure that Florida has accurate and secure elections. There has now been a specific office designated to investigate voting crimes. The Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State has received funds to now investigate criminal offenses when it comes to registering to vote.
SB 524 will also increase the penalties for specific voter fraud crimes. Ballot harvesting, which is when organizations or groups collect and turn in individual voters’ completed election ballots, was once a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida. Now under the new bill, it is a third-degree penalty and is punishable with up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison. To read about the five key steps SB 524 aims to fulfill, you can do so here.
Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida
There is clearly a lot of discussion along with confusion about the current state of voting fraud laws. Just like in the case of Roberts and Baldwin, both inmates were unaware that they were doing anything illegal by signing up to vote. The current state of Amendment 4 and SB 524 can appear contradictory. If you or a loved one have been accused of voter fraud as a convicted felon, it is important to seek out the assistance of a skilled defense attorney. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you navigate the legal world and strategize a strong defense for your case. Don Pumphrey and his legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm promise to stand by your side throughout the entire process, and to work towards earning your freedom. For a free consultation, call (850) 681-7777 today or leave an online message.
Written by Karissa Key