WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, April 26, the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP filed a lawsuit against Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd (R) challenging the state’s voter registration application. Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that the form’s lack of information regarding voter eligibility, especially as it pertains to returning citizens (those with past felony convictions), violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
The plaintiffs allege that the challenged voter registration application fails to meet the requirements of the NVRA, which prescribes “minimum standards for informing potential voters about Florida’s complicated eligibility requirements.” The plaintiffs specifically argue that the form does not contain the necessary information for individuals, especially returning citizens, to conclude whether they are eligible to vote. In addition, the plaintiffs allege that Florida’s voter information cards that are mailed to returning citizens do not include “any information to indicate to registrants that they might not be eligible to vote.” The plaintiffs point out that while Florida’s eligibility rules have changed in the last five years, the state’s registration application has not changed since 2013 and does not account for these voter eligibility rule changes. The plaintiffs ask the court to declare the voter registration application in violation of the NVRA, prevent Byrd from using the application and order Byrd to adopt an application that complies with the NVRA.
As the complaint points out, Florida has a “byzantine statutory scheme for the restoration of voting rights following felony convictions that made it ‘sometimes hard, sometimes impossible’ for returning citizens…to determine their eligibility to vote.” In 2018, voters in Florida amended the state’s constitution to restore voting rights to an “estimated 1.4 million Floridians with non-disqualifying felony convictions;” in 2019 however, the Florida Legislature passed a “pay-to-vote” law that “effectively revoked the eligibility of nearly half of the intended beneficiaries of Amendment 4.”
Because of the pay-to-vote system and a patchwork of voter eligibility rules, it is extremely difficult for returning citizens to determine if they are eligible to vote. The plaintiffs explain, “there are no reliable, publicly available sources for determining whether a returning citizen owes money or whether a returning citizen’s debts disqualify him or her from voting.” According to the complaint, within the last “13 months alone, the State prosecuted at least 39 returning citizens for registering to vote or voting while allegedly ineligible to do so. The available evidence reflects that most if not all of these returning citizens honestly believed themselves to be eligible to register and vote,” and for “several of these returning citizens, a government official advised them to register or told them they could vote.”
As Neil Volz wrote for Democracy Docket, “[f]or lots of people with past convictions, voting is a step in our restorative journey. It is a journey that is not just good for us, but good for our entire society.”