Last month, 10 convicted felons were charged with voter fraud. Last week, the first of them was sentenced to three years in prison.
Daniel Dion Roberts received the sentence as part of a plea deal that saw him admit to committing voter fraud and providing false voter registration information. But it’s unclear whether what he did actually rises to the level of voter fraud.
So, what did he do? He registered to vote.
After voters overwhelming approved Amendment 4 in 2018, it has been legal for felons who have completed their sentences to vote. However, the various legal challenges surrounding the Legislature’s bill implementing the amendment have led to periods of confusion over who, exactly, can register.
Such was the case in Alachua County.
Roberts registered to vote in the summer of 2020 from inside the Alachua County jail. He did so when officials from the county Supervisor of Elections office visited the jail to help inmates vote — remember, many inmates are serving time for misdemeanors, meaning they never lost their right to vote.
However, those officials didn’t have case files listing which inmates had prior felony convictions, and more importantly, which of them had outstanding fines or fees related to those convictions.
The inmates were simply provided with the information after which they could choose whether to sign the voter registration form professing that they have completed all terms of their sentence. It’s entirely possible that the inmates themselves did not know they still had court fees to pay, and therefore did not know that they were breaking the law.
Of course, the lawyers out there will remind us of four Latin words they learned in law school: ignorantia legis neminem excusat. Translation: ignorance of the law excuses no one.
It may be that by the letter of the law these Alachua County inmates committed a crime. But that doesn’t mean the law is just, or that it was applied fairly. If it were, then acts of intentional voter fraud — such as voting twice — should be met with just as harsh a punishment, if not a harsher one.
But they aren’t.
In fact, voting twice is hardly punished at all. The Villages residents who pleaded guilty to doing so — Charles Barnes and Jay Ketcik — received 50 hours of community service and were ordered to take a three-month civics class. No Supervisor of Elections official knocked on their doors and told them they could legally vote twice, either.
What’s the Latin phrase for knowing the law and choosing to break it anyway? Because they did that and got away with it with little more than a slap on the wrist.