Three Central Florida residents arrested for voter fraud thought their rights were restored

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Each of the three formerly convicted felons arrested for voter fraud by the governor’s new election security office thought their right to vote had been restored since being released from prison, they told investigators.


Michelle Stribling of Eatonville, and Peter Washington and Jerry Foster of Orlando were among the 20 people arrested during a statewide operation on Thursday as Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference to champion his efforts to crack down on election security.

“Some people say there’s no voter fraud. That never happens,” the governor said. “This is a third-degree felony in the state of Florida. They could face a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison for illegally voting in our elections.”

It remains to be seen whether any of the 20 will actually be convicted. To be guilty of voter fraud in Florida, a person has to cast a ballot while knowing they were ineligible.

READ: 3 Orange County residents among 20 arrested, charged with voter fraud in Florida

According to affidavits filed in each of the three cases, Stribling, Washington and Foster had to check a box testifying that their rights had been restored while filling out their applications. State prosecutors noted that in each case, the defendants were providing false information.

However, during interviews with investigators, all three alluded to misinformation given to them by officials or outright confusion over their statuses.

Stribling was convicted of second-degree murder in 1993. During her interview, she said she registered to vote at a church in 2019 and didn’t think she was still considered a convicted felon since she completed her prison sentence and was released after a clemency hearing. However, she did not complete any clemency paperwork. She said she could not read or write very well and was denied assistance with her application at the voter registration center. She said she believed she was eligible to vote because she received a card in the mail after registering.

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Washington was convicted of attempted sexual battery in 1996. He told investigators a probation officer told him his rights would be restored once he was released from prison. He subsequently was called for jury duty three times after being released. He subsequently filled out a voter registration form and received a card in the mail, believing his right to vote had been restored.

Foster was convicted of seducing a child over the internet or an electronic device in 2010. He said he heard a news report in 2020 that DeSantis had given all convicted felons the right to vote except murderers and sexual offenders, alluding to a voter referendum passed a few years ago. However, when he called the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, he said a deputy told him he could vote. He marked that his rights had been restored on the application because he thought they had.

There are known issues with changing statuses due to delays or break downs in communication between the court system, the state government and county election offices. When a voter registers, the county officials are supposed to check with the state, which gets its information from the courts.

READ: Central Florida election officials consider changes to early voting after surprisingly low turnout

“There are multiple checks on a registration. But it’s only as good as the information that is available in that check,” Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said.

Earlier in 2022, a Lake County prosecutor declined to press charges against six sex offenders who voted illegally in 2020. In those cases, a spokesman for the office wrote, each of the six genuinely believed their actions were legal.

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