Will DeSantis Support a Felon Candidate if Trump Is Convicted Before 2024 Election?

By James Wilson August 29, 2023

DeSantis' readiness to vote for Trump if he is found guilty poses a compelling contrast with his tough stance on former felons' voting rights.

Last week’s first GOP presidential debate saw Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, amongst others, pledge support for Donald Trump as the 2024 GOP presidential nominee, regardless of any potential criminal conviction. This declaration came as a surprise to some, given DeSantis' stance on voting rights for former felons in Florida.

As executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Desmond Meade committed to reinstating voting rights for former felons in a state notoriously tough on those trying to regain this right. Despite the successful passage of an amendment in 2018 to ease this process, Meade was astounded by DeSantis' readiness to back Trump, currently facing 91 felony charges, in the upcoming election.

DeSantis' actions were seen as displaying a stark contradiction. Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida coalition, noted that this endorsement could put pressure on states to change their approach towards former felons’ political involvement.

This situation assumes significance as Trump is registered to vote in Florida, where a felony conviction typically bars voting until the sentence is completed, even while under appeal. In light of the legal and political uncertainty surrounding Trump, the question arises whether he could hold public office if convicted of a felony.

Insha Rahman, vice president of advocacy and partnership at the Vera Institute of Justice, pointed out the need to reconsider such prohibitions. Florida law could potentially force DeSantis, should Trump be both nominated and convicted, to make decisions about privileges uncommonly granted in such circumstances.

While all this might currently seem hypothetical, if Trump, as a convicted felon, wins the GOP nomination, matters could become quite pressing. Mark Schlakman, a law professor at Florida State University, noted that a felon’s conviction could rule them ineligible for the ballot, a fact that might force DeSantis into a difficult position.

The final word may lie with Florida's clemency board, including DeSantis, which could grant Trump voting and other rights if he gets convicted of a felony - an exceptional move in clemency cases.

DeSantis' offices did not respond to questions about his stance towards restoring Trump's rights or if he had ever before supported clemency for a Florida felon prior to sentence completion. A slew of potential legal and political challenges lie ahead if a felon – possibly Trump – ends up being nominated for presidency.