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National Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (Nlets) Suppressed My Vote

As the battle to restore voting rights in Florida continues, I experienced Florida Voter Suppression 2.0.

On August 27, 2020 Nlets cleared my record, but to this day I still have not received a formal apology and Nlets still cannot answer how did this mistake happen. (Photo: Craig Sunter/flickr/cc with overlay)

On August 27, 2020 Nlets cleared my record, but to this day I still have not received a formal apology and Nlets still cannot answer how did this mistake happen. (Photo: Craig Sunter/flickr/cc with overlay)

On September, 11, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit voted 6-4 not to restore the voting rights of 800,000 former felons in Florida until they pay all fines and court costs. The plaintiffs in the case argued the fines and court fees are a “poll tax” that prohibits these citizens from voting. The total amount of fines for felony fees owed in Broward County alone is half a billion dollars. Since 2016, Donald Trump appointed six judges to the 11th Circuit and they all voted in favor of prohibiting former felons from voting. The 11th Circuit was a Democratic majority and within four years it has become a Republican majority

I relocated to Gainesville, FL on Tuesday, August 11th, and I made an appointment to get my Florida’s state driver’s license on Wednesday, August 12th. Florida is a purple state, so I was not going to waste any time, I was going to get my Florida state driver’s license, register Democratic, and pray the state turns blue in November. I approached the window and gave my information to the employee at the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles (FDMV). She asked me “did you know your driving privileges were suspended in North Carolina.” I said, “what, North Carolina, I never had a driver’s license from NC, but in 1991, I received a speeding ticket there. I was in a minivan with my Morehouse College history majors on our way to a history conference in Washington DC.” I reassure her, I paid the $65.00 summons because I understood unpaid moving violations may lead to major problems. 

I informed the FDMV worder, I received my Connecticut Driver’s License a few years ago and I did not have any issues. She said, “CT may not be a part of Nlets, and in my mind I am saying to myself “What da f%%@ is Nlets?” The clerk said, “well CT may not belong to Nlets, so I asked myself,” is this a Floridian organization trying to suppress black votes?” 

When one applies for a driver’s license in any state the local DMV enters your driving record into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to see if you have any fines or suspensions. NHTSA is a federal organization, however, in May 1966, fifty US States and US territories created, National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (Nlets) a state owned 501 3 C non-profit organization that was created to “develop a nationwide interstate communications system.”(www.nlets.com). The states decided they needed another information gathering service independent of the federal government.  In 2018, Nlets had over 2.1 billion transactions and they offer a wide range of cybersecurity protections. 

Twenty four states belong to the International Justice and Public Safety Network (IJPSS) that “can access a wide range of information from standard driver’s licenses.” CT is part of Nlets, but it is one of 26 states, that are not part of the IJPSS. New Jersey, where the moving violation occurred and Florida belong to IJPSS and this was the reason I was denied my Florida’s driver’s license. North Carolina is not part of IJPSS, but since the citation was not paid the municipal court in Sparta, NJ suspended my driver’s license privileges in North Carolina.  

I called the North Carolina DMV in Raleigh, NC and told the clerk why the FDMV did not allow me to get my Florida driver’s license. I gave the NCDMV clerk my name and she said I received a ticket in Sparta, NJ in March 2006. I was trying to be polite, but in my head, I said, “what da hell are you talking about?” I have been to New Jersey numerous times and I have never heard of Sparta, NJ”. The North Carolina DMV clerk gave me the citation number and told me to call Sparta, NJ municipal court. 

I called the Sparta Municipal court and the clerk asked for my name and birthdate two times. When he located the citation, he said this is not you there was a mistake,  (in my head, I am like no s%$# Sherlock, I told you) but he could not give me the person’s name on the citation or make a call to the North Carolina DMV to clear my record. I thought, since Nlets made the error the clerk in the Sparta, Nj court would make a few calls to clear my record so I can vote on the Democratic primary on August 18th. 

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The next day, I returned to the Florida DMV and spoke to the supervisor and said, NLETS made a mistake, but there is nothing they could do about. I would have to make the calls and clear the mistake. When I heard that I knew I would not be able to vote on August 18th. I called the Sparta, NJ court and he told me to go online and download a New Jersey Records Judicial Request Form and fax it to the Sparta, NJ Municipal Court. Fortunately, I received the information the same day and the person who had received citation in NJ was a Latino male with a NC driver’s license. The next question is how in the hell did my information get in the Nlets system.

I faxed the form to the NC DMV, called and they said they received it and someone will give me a call. I waited a few days and no one called. I was furious, I missed the Democratic Primary election and still could not get my FL driver’s license. During this ordeal, I thought about voter suppression and not having my Florida driver’ license in time so I can register to vote for the November election. 

I went to Nlets’s website and searched for a link to send a complaint. I located the President who works for the Florida Department of Transportation and I sent an email that summarized my problem, and I said “if you do not call me tomorrow, I am going to contact the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP), hire a lawyer, and sue Nlets for Voter Suppression.” The next day, I received a phone call from the president of Nlets and he apologized for their mistake, but still could not tell me how did my name get caught up in a digital dragnet. 

During our conversation I told him, I am a 6’7 African American male and from 2014-2018 I had driven through North Carolina six times. I asked the gentlemen, who is white, “What If I got pulled over by NC state or local law enforcement for a routine check or if my lightbulb went out in my tailights? According to NLets, NC had suspended my driving privileges, but I had a Connecticut driver’s license and was driving in North Carolina. In addition, there was a warrant for not paying the fine. When I first heard the state of North Carolina had suspended the persons driving privileges, I thought the person must have committed a major crime such as hit and run, DUI, or vehicular manslaughter.  No, the citation was an “obstruction of windshield for vision” with a $65.00 fine. 

I explained to the president of Nlets the implications of their mistake, he was listening, but did not hear me.  If I was pulled over by law enforcement and the officer said, “Mr. Canton please step out of the car, your driver’s license was suspended in NC. On March 27, 2006, you received a citation in Sparta, NJ. I do not know how you obtained a license in CT, but come with me.” To the law enforcement person, I am guilty, and he is following the law. I would have responded “Officer, I have no idea what you are talking about” The officer replies, “I am following the law please step out the car,” I can refuse, but if I decided to get my 6’7 black body out of the car and the officer thought I was a threat or feared for his life unfortunately we know all too well what could or may have happened.

African Americans and woke Americans who read this understand the implications, but non woke folks will say, “well you were not pulled over, you are a professor (class pass) and stop adding to the problem.” This is why I wrote this story to inform folks about Nlets. On August 27, 2020 Nlets cleared my record, but to this day I still have not received a formal apology and Nlets still cannot answer how did this mistake happen.

David Canton

David Canton

Dr. David Canton is Director of African American Studies Program and Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida. He graduated with a B.A. in History from Morehouse College, received his M.A. in Black Studies from The Ohio State University and PhD in history from Temple University.

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