While we are called the United States of America, when it comes to the voting rights of people who have been incarcerated, we are anything but united.

Florida Governor DeSantis, along with funding from the legislature, created Florida’s new Office of Election Crimes and Integrity, while 21 other states automatically restore voting rights after release from prison.

Washington state passed a law in 2021 that automatically restored voting rights upon release from prison.  Although we want to see this happen in Washington along with all states, it drives the nail into our hearts a little further as we watch Florida leaders continue to repress some would-be voters.  Should the voices of once-incarcerated people continue to be left out?

There are approximately 4.6 million Americans who are disenfranchised because of laws in some states which have removed voting rights from people with a past felony or felonies.

Some of these state laws were passed following the abolition of slavery (Jim Crow period).

In the past decade, a growing number of states have returned some voting rights to formerly incarcerated people.

In 11 states, voting remains restricted.

Yes, Florida is now allowing voting for some people with a past felony but with restrictions that appear to many to be an impediment to restoring voting rights.  If it had not been for a grassroots effort resulting in Amendment 4, quite possibly anyone with a past felony would still not be able to vote in our state.

The political leadership would not restore voting rights, so the voters of Florida took care of the matter and began the process.

Unfortunately, polls showed that the amendment to restore voting rights would be a close vote; only if people with a past sex offense or murder offense were excluded did the amendment stand a chance of passing as the polls were showing that the 60% required to pass the amendment could be very close.  Unfortunately, many voters are not well informed, lacking knowledge of research, and desire to see certain people receive a lifetime punishment, thereby violating our U.S. Constitution.

The arrests and attempts to prosecute registrants who honestly thought they had regained the right to vote is only going to intimidate many returning citizens who do qualify under Amendment 4 to regain their voting rights.   (Washington state returning citizens are facing a similar problem.)  This is all in a state that has shunned any responsibility for letting returning citizens know if they are eligible to vote.

When you consider the large number of homeless registrants in Miami/Dade and Broward Counties, among whom many have either no internet or sporadic at best, usually no transportation, no money to seek legal services, no access to the media, some with mental disabilities – how are these individuals supposed to find out if they are eligible?  Many get their information out on the streets from people who do not fully understand Amendment 4, with some people with a past sex offense thinking they were now eligible to vote.

To reintegrate back into society successfully as a law-abiding citizen the following are needed:

  • Need to feel they belong
  • Need to know what is going on with their children, healthcare, taxes, levies, bonds

“They realize there is a real-life, real-world experience waiting for them on the other side.”

Desmonde Meade with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2019, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Mr. Mead’s nomination is due to his work in regaining voting rights for some Floridians who have a past felony.

Think about it:  Circumstances in Florida are so merciless when it comes to allowing all tax-paying citizens to have a say in who represents them in forming government policy that the world feels anyone who can help Florida return voting rights should be recognized for doing so in the worldwide arena by nominating them for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Does Florida not realize what this nomination says about our state?

According to the Miami Herald, “Florida’s government is doing everything but standing on its head to cripple and undermine the amendment.”

Mr. Mead said that he would come back for the groups excluded in the amendment as it was not his intention to leave anyone out.  Does he remember that promise?

How can we continue to refer to our country as the United States of America when there is such disparity when it comes to voting rights among the different states?

Mr. Desmond Meade can be contacted at:

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC)
PO Box 618147
Orlando, FL 32861

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