American Oversight’s Investigation into the Restoration of Voting Rights in Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
En Español

American Oversight launched the State Accountability Project in March 2019 with the goal of shedding light on voter suppression and election issues in Texas, Georgia, and Florida. Over the last nine months, we have worked in collaboration with local organizations in all three states to root out key election issues and to learn how best to deploy our expertise. We’ve filed more than 150 requests to county and state offices, on issues ranging from election security to voter-ID laws. As we enter 2020, we’re looking back on what we have discovered and sharing our plans for the Project’s future.

When, in November 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, the measure to restore voting rights to more than 1 million Floridians who have served felony sentences, it was widely celebrated as a crucial step toward a more accessible democracy. Unfortunately, state lawmakers swiftly sought to undermine the choice of the voters with the passage of a law known as SB 7066. The law effectively created a poll tax, barring those who have served felony sentences from voting until they have paid off all fines and fees related to their sentence, regardless of their financial ability to do so. 

This chain of events led to more questions than answers. We began our investigation into Amendment 4 and SB 7066 with a suite of requests related to the implementation of both the ballot measure and the ensuing law. Particularly, we wanted to gain a better understanding of the systems and procedures that would need to be developed and implemented. We submitted a broad range of requests related to felon re-enfranchisement, and you can find those and responsive records here. Our investigation is ongoing, but the documents we have already received reaffirm reports coming from Florida: The system is a mess

Though SB 7066 is our current focus, voting rights are under attack from all angles in Florida. We’ve also filed a suite of requests aimed at determining whether the offices of the governor and the secretary of state have communicated with “voter fraud” activist groups and individuals, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Other public records requests included communications between those state offices and the American Legislative Exchange Council or any politicians linked to the conservative model-legislation machine. The requests also went to 10 counties in Florida: Leon, Duval, Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Hendry, Palm Beach, Hardee, Monroe, and Collier. These counties were selected based on population size, demographics, and each county’s history with voting-rights abuses. 

Florida’s Sunshine Law enabled us to send requests to the state Senate and House of Representatives for legislative communications with “voter fraud” activist groups and ALEC, with specific requests targeting the offices of representatives who attended ALEC’s annual conference. Using information we gathered from responses to these requests, we also followed up with additional requests to each of the counties. You can find those here.

Florida is an election-defining swing state, so each and every vote is particularly impactful. For this reason, we began looking into the top two voter-suppression tactics used nationwide: voter roll purges and gerrymandering. While Florida’s purges have not been as massive or faulty as those in Texas and Georgia, we have sought guidance or directives on how Florida maintains its voter rolls. You can find those requests here: Department of State, Taylor, Collier, Monroe, Hardee, Palm Beach, Hendry, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Broward, Duval, and Leon. To tackle manipulative redistricting, we requested records of communication that national and local redistricting advocates had with the governor’s office, the Florida House, and the Florida Senate. We also followed up with additional requests to Reps. Mike La Rosa, Jason Fischer, and Thad Altman.

Like Texas and Georgia, Florida has struggled to secure its elections from ever-evolving cybersecurity threats. The computer systems of entire cities in Florida have been electronically attacked for ransom, so we opened our investigation with a suite of requests related to hacking attempts. Using information from local reports, we submitted requests to Taylor, Gadsden, Hardee, and Washington Counties. We also sent a request to the Florida Department of State for more information on the online voter registration outage that occurred in September, as well as a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI for information on the Russian military’s successful attempt to hack into “at least one Florida county government,” which was reported in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s March 2019 report. Unfortunately, the agency neither confirmed nor denied the existence of responsive records. 

As we look to 2020, we plan to continue our ongoing investigations and expand to cover new issues. Here are a few of our priorities for the next year of voting defense in Florida: 

  • Continued investigation into SB 7066 and Amendment 4: As Florida irons out the implementation of Amendment 4 and SB 7066, we will continue to press for transparency and accountability. 
  • Office of Executive Clemency: A grand total of just four Floridians have had their voting rights restored through Florida’s clemency board this year. We’ve already filed a request for more information about the board’s inefficiency, and we plan to continue this investigation. 
  • Restoration of Voting Rights Task Force: In August 2019, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed four officials to his Restoration of Voting Rights Task Force. We plan to request more information on the functioning of this group.

 

En Español

American Oversight lanzó el Proyecto Estatal de Rendición de Cuentas en marzo de 2019 con la meta de arrojar luz sobre la represión del voto y problemas con elecciones en Texas, Georgia, y Florida. A lo largo de los últimos nueve meses, hemos trabajado en colaboración con organizaciones locales en los tres estados para identificar las cuestiones claves y aprender cómo podemos hacer mejor uso de nuestra pericia. Hemos presentado más de 150 solicitudes en oficinas locales de condados y estatales, sobre una variedad de temas como seguridad de las elecciones y leyes de identificación de votantes. A medida que ingresamos al nuevo año, repasamos lo que hemos descubierto, y compartimos nuestro plan para el futuro del Proyecto.

Cuando los electores aprobaron la Enmienda 4 en noviembre 2018, la medida para restaurar los derechos al voto a más de 1 millón de floridianos que han cumplido sus condenas, fue celebrado ampliamente como una etapa crucial hacia una democracia más accesible. Lamentablemente, legisladores estatales rápidamente trataron de socavar la elección de los votantes con la ley SB 7066. La propuesta de ley efectivamente creó un impuesto electoral, prohibiendo a los que han cumplido condenas de delitos graves de votar hasta que paguen todas las multas y los gastos relacionados con sus condenas, independientemente de sus estados financieros y habilidad de pagar. 

Esta serie de acontecimientos produjeron más preguntas que respuestas. Empezamos nuestra investigación de la Enmienda 4 y SB 7066 con una serie de solicitudes relacionadas con la implementación de ambas leyes. En particular, queríamos obtener un mejor entendimiento de los sistemas y procedimientos que tendrían que desarrollarse e implementarse. Nuestra investigación esta un curso, pero los expedientes que hemos obtenido confirman los informes que salen de Florida: el sistema es un desastre. Presentamos solicitudes sobre una amplia gama de temas relacionados con la privación de derechos, y puedes encontrar todas nuestras solicitudes y documentos aquí.

Aunque SB 7066 es nuestro enfoque actual, los derechos al voto están bajo ataque desde todos los ángulos en Florida. También presentamos una serie de solicitudes para determinar si las oficinas del gobernador y el secretario del estado se habían comunicado con individuos y grupos activistas de “fraude electoral,” como el Heritage Foundation, el Public Interest Legal Foundation, y el ex secretario de estado de Kansas Kris Kobach. Otras solicitudes de registros públicos incluyen comunicaciones entre esas oficinas estatales y el American Legislative Exchange Council o cualquier político conectado a la máquina del modelo de legislación conservadora. Las solicitudes también se enviaron a 10 condados de Florida: Leon, Duval, Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Hendry, Palm Beach, Hardee, Monroe, y Collier. Estos condados fueron seleccionados por el tamaño de la población, la demografía, y el historial de cada condado con abusos de los derechos al voto. 

La leyes de transparencia o “Sunshine Law” de Florida, nos permite enviar solicitudes al Senado y a la Cámara de Representantes del estado para obtener comunicaciones legislativas con grupos activistas de “fraude electoral” y ALEC, con solicitudes específicas y focalización a las oficinas de representantes que asistieron a la conferencia anual de ALEC. Con la información de las respuestas que recibimos, continuamos investigando con solicitudes adicionales en cada condado. Puedes encontrarlos aquí

Florida es un estado electoral disputado, así que todo y cada voto tiene poder. Por esta razón, empezamos a investigar las dos tácticas principales de supresión de votantes utilizadas en todo el país: purgas de las listas de electores y la manipulación de circunscripciones. Aunque las purgas de Florida no han sido tan masivas o defectuosas como las de Texas y Georgia, presentamos solicitudes para obtener directivas o guías sobre cómo Florida mantiene sus listas. Puede encontrarlos aquí: Departamento de Estado, Taylor, Collier, Monroe, Hardee, Palm Beach, Hendry, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Broward, Duval, y Leon. Para abordar los mapas manipulados de circunscripciones, presentamos solicitudes para obtener expedientes de comunicación entre activistas estatales y nacionales y la oficina del gobernador, la Cámara de Representantes, y el Senado de Florida. También continuamos con solicitudes adicionales a los representantes Mike La Rosa, Jason Fischer, y Thad Altman

Cómo Texas y Georgia, Florida ha tenido dificultad con la seguridad de sus elecciones y amenazas cibernéticas. Los sistemas de computadora de ciudades enteras en Florida han sido atacadas electrónicamente por un rescate, así que comenzamos nuestra investigación presentando solicitudes a los condados de Taylor, Gadsden, Hardee, y Washington. También presentamos solicitudes al Departamento de Estado de Florida para obtener más detalles sobre el corte del sistema de registro en línea que ocurrió en septiembre, así como una solicitud de la Ley de Libertad de la Información a la FBI para pedir información sobre el intento exitoso de las fuerza armadas de Rusia para hackear “al menos uno” de los condados del gobierno de Florida, que fue reportado en el informe de marzo de 2019 del fiscal especial Robert Mueller. Desafortunadamente, la agencia no confirmó ni negó la existencia de expedientes que responderían a la solicitud.

Mientras miramos hacia 2020, hay varias áreas de interés que planeamos seguir. Algunas de nuestras prioridades para el próximo año en defensa del voto en Florida:

  • Investigación continua de SB 7066 y Enmienda 4: A medida que Florida pone  la implementación de la Enmienda 4 y la SB 7066 en orden, continuaremos presionando por la transparencia y la rendición de cuentas.
  • La oficina ejecutiva de clemencia: Un gran total de solo cuatro personas de Florida han tenido su derecho al voto restaurado a través de la junta de clemencia este año. Ya hemos presentado una solicitud para más información sobre la ineficaz de la junta, y continuaremos la investigación en 2020.
  • Equipo de Trabajo de la Restauración de Derechos al Voto: En agosto 2019, el gobernador de Florida Ron DeSantis apuntó a cuatro funcionarios a su Equipo de Trabajo de la Restauración de Derechos al Voto. Planeamos en preguntar por más información sobre las responsabilidades de este grupo. 

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