Florida is one of four states in the U.S. that continue to punish felons long after they have served their sentences and returned to society in the form of a lifelong restriction on voting rights.
In Florida alone, there are 1.5 million felons who would otherwise be eligible to vote who are barred by law from doing so. The law has been in place in one way or another since 1838, and now, an advocacy group is hoping to remove it once and for all.
Led by one felon Floridian, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition seeks to amend the state’s constitution to allow those no longer serving sentences to have their full rights restored, voting included.
So far, the organization has successfully had their amendment’s language approved by the Florida Supreme Court, and they will now need to gather thousands of signatures on a petition in order to have the amendment placed on the 2018 ballot.
Joined by the Floridians for a Fair Democracy, the FRRC needs to gather approximately 700,000 signatures – no small feat.
Desmond Meade, the president of the FRRC, became active in the issue after he was barred from voting for his own wife in a local election.
“[T]he most painful experience was when my wife ran for office and I couldn’t even vote for her. It was like a slap in the face. It was a knife being twisted in an old wound, reminding me I’m still not a full citizen.”
Meade served his time and was released from prison in 2005. Now, more than a decade later, he still feels the sting of his past misdeeds.
Of course, while the issue should be purely on a human rights basis, there is undoubtedly a political angle as well. When Democratic governor Charlie Christ was in office, he pardoned over a hundred fifty thousand felons who applied for clemency. Under Republican Rick Scott, that number was reduced to fewer than 2,500.