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PolitiFact Fl: Can You Lose Your Right To Vote For Driving Without A License?

Jun 2, 2017

A man from Orlando by the name of Desmond Meade is a convicted drug offender who later turned his life around, got a law degree, and is now leading the charge to automatically restore voting rights to felons. Now, all he needs is 700,000 signatures on a petition to put it on next year's ballot.

He claims that "You could lose your rights for life over something as simple as driving with a suspended license" in Florida:

"It doesn't matter if it's first degree or third degree. You could lose your rights for life over something as simple as driving with a suspended license," he said. 

Here's PolitiFact Florida's take on that claim:

In April, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously approved language for a proposed amendment to restore voting rights to felons after they complete their sentences. The next hurdle for advocates including Meade is to collect about 700,000 signatures to place a question on the ballot in 2018. (Meade, a recovered drug addict, is among felons who have lost their civil rights: He served about three years in prison after a conviction for a 2001 firearm possession charge.)

The proposed amendment calls for restoring voting rights for felons automatically once they have completed their sentences including parole or probation. Automatic restoration would not apply to felons convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would still have to ask the Florida Cabinet and Gov. Rick Scott to restore their rights in a slow and cumbersome process.

While the policy extends back to the Jim Crow era and makes Florida an outlier nationally, there have been efforts to make the process easier. In 2007 under then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, felons convicted of less serious offenses could regain their rights without a hearing after finishing their sentences. However, in 2011, the Republican Cabinet, led by Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Gov. Rick Scott scrapped that process and set a minimum of a five-year waiting period.

Since 2011 through April 1, 2017, about 2,600 felons have gotten their rights restored while more than 10,000 cases are pending. That means that felons don’t necessarily lose their rights for the rest of their life, but it’s a long and cumbersome process and ultimately the Cabinet can deny restoring someone’s rights.

Meade omits an important caveat about the Florida statute specifically about driving with a suspended license: the first and second convictions are misdemeanors, so the crime only becomes a felony upon the third or subsequent conviction. We rate this claim Mostly True.

Meade told that comment to Samantha Bee on her TBS cable show Full Frontal. There, she made her own claim:

"In Florida, it can be a felony for things like buying weed. Tampering with an odometer. Or disturbing a lobster trap. So basically, Spring Break.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's take:

Bee cited three statutes that are felonies in Florida:  

893.13 (2) (a) 2: This statute bans buying or possession with intent to sell drugs, including marijuana which is a third-degree felony. Possession of a small amount of cannabis -- less than 20 grams -- is a misdemeanor.

319.35 (1) (a) tampering with an odometer: "It is unlawful for any person knowingly to tamper with, adjust, alter, set back, disconnect, or fail to connect an odometer of a motor vehicle, or to cause any of the foregoing to occur to an odometer of a motor vehicle, so as to reflect a lower mileage than the motor vehicle has actually been driven..." This is a third-degree felony.

379.367 (4) disturbing a lobster trap: "It is unlawful for any person willfully to molest any spiny lobster traps, lines, or buoys belonging to another without permission of the license holder." This is a third-degree felony.

While we were unable to find any data on how many people had lost their rights based on particular statutes, we did obtain conviction data for the statutes Bee cited from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Here are the convictions for those offenses between 2012 and 2016, which make up a tiny slice of all felony convictions in that period:

•  Buying or possessing marijuana: 398 felony convictions with specification of marijuana.

•  Messing with an odometer: 1 felony conviction

•  Disturbing a lobster trap: 4 felony convictions

The drug statute she cited resulted in about 400 felony convictions related to marijuana. For small amounts of marijuana, the crime is a misdemeanor.

With that clarifying note, we rate this statement Mostly True.