Famed civil rights attorney joins legal team of 69-year-old Florida woman facing…

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV/Gray News) – Renowned personal injury and civil rights attorney Ben Crump has joined the legal team of a 69-year-old Tallahassee woman who was arrested at her home on voter fraud charges last month.

The legal team representing Marsha Ervin said in a news conference Tuesday that her arrest and charges are discriminatory and attempting to intimidate voters. Flanked by prominent state and capital city figures and NAACP leaders, Crump urged the state to drop the charges against Ervin and to clarify voter eligibility laws in Florida.

Ervin is accused of falsely claiming she was eligible to vote in Florida in 2020 and 2022 while being a convicted felon on probation, according to court records.

She faces three third-degree felony charges: one count of submission of false voter registration information and two counts of voting as an unqualified elector, according to court records.

But the longtime Tallahassee resident told Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials that she believed she was allowed to vote because she was allegedly told she could when she was released from prison, according to the documents.

Hailing from Tallahassee, Crump said his family, including himself, his wife, mother and aunt, know Ervin personally. He defended her actions and condemned the state’s charges and manner of arresting her.

“For this to happen to her, well, it really tells you, it could happen to any of us,” Crump said. “Because this is about voter intimidation. This is about to instill 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.’”

Ervin was reportedly arrested Sept. 29 at about 3 a.m. at her home by the Tallahassee Police Department. Crump likened Ervin’s arrest in the late hours of the night to the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor by law enforcement in 2020. Crump said he is glad Ervin is still here today, and questioned the necessity of the alleged armed late-night arrest of the 69-year-old.

“Is that really what we want to use a SWAT team for?” Crump said.

Standing beside Crump at a lectern, Ervin held up her voter registration card for attendees to see.

The team representing Ervin said it is unfair to persecute her, and they ultimately called for reform to the registration process, particularly for felons. They pointed out that there were others who helped her register and obtain her card, but those individuals are not facing charges.

Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor called the registration process “intentionally murky.”

“Why are we putting the onus on the citizens?” Crump asked.

The NAACP is urging the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections to establish a new checkbox for felons seeking voter registration. The checkbox would allow for additional verification of eligibility without the risk of arrest in case of errors, and it would put the responsibility of confirming voter status on the state, according to a news release from the civil rights group.

Proctor pointed out other registration systems the state already manages, including drivers licenses and fishing licenses. He said if Florida can keep track of those networks, they can take on clarifying voter registrations and the proposed checkbox practice.

“It’s within the state’s capacity to make this exist,” he said.

Proctor compared the lack of clarity in voter registration to discriminatory Jim Crow-era voter suppression tactics.

“This is nothing but a literacy test,” Proctor said.

Tallahassee activist and former candidate for the Florida House Marie Rattigan said the checkbox would help the state and residents avoid unintentionally violating voting laws. She also announced the team representing and supporting Ervin will release a petition to push the state to drop the charges against her.

Prominent Tallahassee defense attorney Mutaqee Akbar also said in the news conference Tuesday he is a proponent of the change.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said the checkbox suggestion is “not a bad idea.”

“That’s an interesting option, actually,” the elections supervisor said. “I do know that the Department of State has an advisory opinion process that you can go through, and this might tie into that nicely, frankly.”

Earley said he can understand how felons can find the process of registering to vote confusing. He acknowledged how difficult it can be to reassemble one’s life after incarceration.

“I don’t think anybody in that situation is intentionally trying to defraud the United States by voting when they’re not eligible,” he said. “So, I think these are honest mistakes… I don’t think there was any intent to defraud.”

Earley also expressed that he feels great compassion for Ervin.

Fundamentally, Ervin’s arrest boils down to voter oppression and suppression, said renowned activist and pastor Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr.

Crump said it’s part of a trend in Florida he finds “troubling.”

The attorney said recent moves to limit Black history in classrooms, to ban books and now this alleged voter suppression are reminiscent of the actions that formed Nazi Germany. He warned the Sunshine State and the country that these actions are dangerous.

“It’s a slippery slope, Florida,” he said. “It’s a slippery slope, America.”

The issues discussed Tuesday extend beyond Ervin’s arrest, Crump said. It is about American democracy and the U.S. justice system, he said. The civil rights leader commended Ervin for joining him during the news conference Tuesday, saying he was glad she attended despite the state wanting her “to be afraid.”

Crump said her charges are part of an attempt to intimidate voters and “block the Black and brown vote in America,” and he called the U.S. justice system discriminatory. The attorney accused the state of attempting to “disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Floridians” because their votes may sway future elections on the local and national levels. He also said the system is more likely to ignore or forgive voter transgressions of white citizens.

“We can’t have two justice systems in America, one for White America and one for Black America,” Crump said.

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