I remember working as a college advisor and having to watch helplessly as some students would have to drop out of school . Them dropping out had nothing to do with their ambition, but everything to do with their past.
A past that involved felonies. Because of those felonies they were no longer eligible for federal student aid. Neither could they afford to pay out of pocket. With limited employment opportunities, and no voice to change things by way of voting. One by one the doors would close.
According to the Florida Constitution , a convicted felon cannot vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office until civil rights have been restored. The civil rights restoration process is a very long and drawn out process with no guarantees. Even after paying your debt to society. Unfortunately, I am certain that many can attest to the fact that being a convicted felon, presents road blocks unimaginable to those who aren’t. In fact, according to the Miami Herald, one out of every 10 of adult citizens in the state are denied the right to vote because some time in their lives they were convicted of a felony.” Read more about that story here:
I had the opportunity to attend the Silenced No More: Rights Restoration Forum. Hosted by Organize Florida – Tampa and the Criminal Justice Committee of Tampa. Discussed was the restoration of rights for felons in the State of Florida. The forum was Q&A style, with the panel consisting of The Honorable Sean Shaw – Florida State Representative District 61, Reva Black – Organize Florida member & President of the Robles Park Tenant Council Association, Inc, Amy Kathryn Trentalange , Mike Pheneger – Past President of the ACLU of Florida and Desmond Meade – President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. All of the panelist made some very valid points centered around the importance of having a fair and quick process for rights restoration and holding our elected officials accountable.
Currently, Desmond Meade is leading a very very important campaign – “Miami Rights”. The purpose of the campaign is to seek to have Article VI and Section 4. Disqualifications of the Florida Constitution amended by allowing the automatic restoration of rights for convicted or adjudicated felons upon completion of all terms of their sentence. This includes probation and parole. To do this a petition with 700,000 signatures is needed so that this amendment to the Florida Constitution may be placed on the ballot in the general election.
Please consider the fact that your vote could be the voice of a disenfranchised felon. The campaign often quotes the phrase “say yes to second chances” by having this measure placed on the ballot and if successful, would indeed result in a real second chance for so many of our citizens. Citizens, that have paid their debts to society, pay taxes and contribute in so many other ways; yet have not had their civil rights restored.
Many have tried to make this a partisan issue. I contend that it is a human rights issue. Especially, considering the racist history of the State of Florida and its voter suppression efforts. Let’s do this Florida!
If you are wondering how to become involved here are a number of ways: