Weeks after police officers in Tallahassee, Florida, arrested an elderly Black woman in the middle of the night for voter fraud, the state attorney has dropped the charges against her. The case highlights the crackdown on ineligible voting in The Sunshine State that critics call a policy of voter intimidation.
Bodycam footage of Martha Ervin’s early morning arrest in September made national news. Police awakened the 69-year-old at nearly 3 a.m., handcuffed and detained her on charges of “fraud.” The confused woman, taken to jail in her pajamas, eventually learned she was charged with voter fraud for registering and voting while still on probation after a 2016 conviction for aggravated neglect of an elderly person. Ervin was among dozens of Floridians arrested on similar voter fraud charges in a statewide crackdown against unlawful registration or voting.
On Tuesday, State Attorney Jack Campbell filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Ervin. The court document does not paint Ervin’s arrest as a mistake, stating, “While there was sufficient probable cause for an arrest, subsequent information has compromised the State’s ability to proceed further.” The motion details how documents and testimony from multiple sources, including Ervin’s probation officer and her county’s supervisor of elections, demonstrate Ervin believed she was eligible to vote and had registered as an honest mistake.
Though Ervin’s case has been resolved, critics of Florida’s policies fear that many other people are still being targeted under the state’s harsh laws and aggressive enforcement. Ervin’s arrest by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was made based on information provided by the state’s Office of Election Crimes and Security. This agency, created in 2022 at the behest of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, has “the stated purpose to improve election integrity in Florida” based on the idea that voter fraud is a significant problem in the state.
Critics argue the new agency is intended to intimidate voters and is yet another step in the state’s long-held strategy of disenfranchising people with felony convictions. For example, even though Florida voters approved a measure to restore voting rights to people with felony convictions who had completed their sentences, the state government — led by DeSantis — carved out a loophole to continue disenfranchising thousands of people who could not pay court fees or restitution related to their convictions. Such moves, which disproportionately impact people of color in the state, are seen as part of a pattern to restrict voting and criminalize honest mistakes.
As DeSantis continues to run a presidential campaign based on his image as an aggressively conservative governor, these crackdowns will likely continue. Meanwhile, Floridians who make honest mistakes while trying to vote in good faith after serving felony sentences will have to be even more careful about their eligibility if these policies remain in place.