Prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump joined the battle to defend a 69-year-old Black woman accused in Florida of voter fraud, CNN reports.
Marsha Ervin served a felony prison sentence and was released in 2018. Investigators said she voted in Florida's 2020 general and 2022 primary elections while still on probation.
But Ervin’s legal team argues that recent changes in state voting laws for past felons confused her.
At around 3 a.m. on September 29, 2022 officers from the Tallahassee Police Department said they had a warrant to arrest Ervin after an investigation by the Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security on charges of voter fraud, reports the Tallahassee Democrat.
During a news conference on Tuesday (Oct. 10) alongside Ervin and members of the NAACP, Crump said that his client did not commit voter fraud.
“This is about voter intimidation,” Crump said, adding that Ervin’s arrest could have a “chilling effect” on other voters in upcoming elections in Florida.
“For this to happen to her, what it really tells you [is] it can happen to any of us,” Crump continued. “This is about instilling fear in people in our community, to say, 'Well, I don't want to get in any trouble, so I'm not going to come and vote.”
"Well, we have a news flash to all the enemies of equality: We will not give," he explained,
Mutaqee Akbar, another of Ervin’s attorneys and president of the Tallahassee NAACP, said that his client was in utter shock when authorities came to her home to arrest her.
“When she woke up, she was completely surprised that they were telling her they had warrants for her arrest," Akbar said.
"She was reliving a nightmare that she had lived five years ago because she voted," Akbar continued.
The voting laws changed in 2018 when Amendment Four was approved by Florida residents, granting full voting rights to people with past felony convictions after the completion of their full sentence, probation, and parole. Those convicted of murder or sexual crimes were the only potential voters who were excluded.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, signed Florida Senate Bill 7066 which required returning citizens to pay all fines and fees associated with their felony conviction before their voting rights are fully restored.
In an interview with an inspector in October 2022, Ervin said that “she believed she was allowed to vote because she was told she could when she was released from prison,” and she “remembered it being reported that felons could now vote in Florida from the reports on television,” the affidavit read,
“Ervin also opined that she would not have voted if she believed it was against the law because she just got out of prison and had begun probation,” the investigator wrote.
Additionally, documents procured from the state Department of Corrections could not determine if Ervin was advised she could vote, or that she could not vote.
Ervin has been charged with submission of false voter registration and two felony counts of voting as an unqualified elector.
If convicted, Ervin could face up to five years in prison.
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