The bill expands state prosecutorial power, intimidates eligible voters with previous felony convictions, and criminalizes them for honest voter eligibility mistakes.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, the Florida House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 4B (SB 4B), which seeks to unnecessarily expand the jurisdiction of the Office of Statewide Prosecution (“OSP”) to investigate and prosecute certain crimes related to voting, petition activities, and voter registration. In expanding this office’s jurisdiction, the bill would remove cases from local prosecutors and prosecute minor occurrences of mistaken voters rather than having to prove a widespread voter conspiracy. It would also seek to circumvent three Florida courts’ decisions which have rejected the OSP’s argument for more expansive jurisdiction. The bill comes after years of inaction by the legislature to fix Florida’s complex and unnavigable system for people with felony convictions to determine their eligibility.
A coalition of non-partisan civil and voting rights groups, including NAACP Florida, ACLU of Florida, Common Cause Florida, All Voting is Local Action, Latino Justice PRLDEF, League of Women Voters of Florida, Legal Defense Fund, and Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law all signed joint testimony opposing the bill.
Since establishing the Office of Election Crimes and Security (“OECS”) in 2022, the OSP has sought to establish jurisdiction so that it could prosecute the 20 returning citizens who had mistakenly voted while ineligible. The OSP sought this jurisdiction under the direction of Gov. DeSantis because people weren’t being prosecuted by local prosecutors who believed the evidence failed to show that the individuals willfully ran afoul of the confusing voting eligibility rules.
The coalition responded to today’s vote with the following statement:
“This proposal is a solution in search of a problem. There is no legitimate need to waste taxpayer dollars and state resources by expanding the Office of Statewide Prosecution for these purposes. This bill is being heard and swiftly passed only because the Governor desires to expand his prosecutorial authority over Floridians who are lawfully trying to exercise their right to vote. The office made arrests, claimed jurisdiction, and is now seeking to change the law after the courts said no. We have grave concerns about the potential for this office targeting returning citizens for honest mistakes about their eligibility to vote in an effort to intimidate communities of color.”
“All voters should have equal, meaningful, and non-burdensome access to the ballot box. To date, Florida has failed to effectively and efficiently verify people’s eligibility under the current system, and the state’s failure has disproportionately harmed Black Floridians. It has refused to provide sufficient guidance to those looking to determine whether they can vote. At the same time, government officials have allowed and, in some instances, outright encouraged people with past felony convictions to register to vote without verifying their eligibility to do so.”
“This bill will create more confusion and disenfranchise eligible voters as part of what’s been a continued effort to intimidate voters – especially returning citizens – from participating in our democracy. Rather than trying to give unchecked power to prosecutors who report to the Governor and his political appointees, state officials should instead find ways to fix the complex and unnavigable system for returning citizens to determine their eligibility and invest resources to solve current known problems.”
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