TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Department of Corrections has updated its probation form to include a section that places the burden on convicted offenders to determine their voter eligibility.
“If the government can’t tell you whether you’re eligible or not, who can you trust,” said Neil Volz, the deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC).
Volz said the new language on the state’s probation form is a step in the right direction, but he added that the state should do more to cut down on the confusion by creating a statewide voter eligibility database to let returning citizens quickly check if they can legally vote.
The change to the DOC probation form came a week after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the arrest of nearly 20 sex offenders and convicted murderers on charges of voting illegally in 2020.
Body camera video from the Tampa Police Department showed how shocked some of them were at the time of arrest. Several said they thought they could vote because elections supervisors issued them voter ID cards.
Volz, a returning citizen himself, said it was heartbreaking to watch the body camera videos.
“I thought it humanized this story and a system that’s not working,” Volz said.
The FRRC advocated for the passage of the 2018 ballot amendment that restores voting rights for most former felons.
“Amendment 4 is very clear in terms of who is eligible,” Volz said. “Somebody on probation, somebody with felony sex offense or murder charges is ineligible.”
Under sections about reporting to probation officers and remaining drug-free, a new paragraph says “By signing this letter, you agree that you are solely responsible for determining if you are legally able to register to vote and that you must solely determine if you are lawfully qualified to vote.”
“At the end of the day the state is responsible for voter verification and managing the voter rolls and it’s important that people know where they can go to find the information and unfortunately that’s not included in this new document.”
The FRRC attorneys are offering free legal guidance for returning citizens who are unsure if they can legally vote.
There is a high burden for prosecuting voter fraud charges because to break the law voters’ actions had to be “willful.” If someone is caught illegally voting after signing the probation form, it could be used as evidence against them in court.