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Desmond Meade says voters should decide about felons' voting rights.

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Felon rights restoration leader sees impending election as countdown to ending ‘Jim Crow’ policy

During a ceremony honoring the newly unveiled Civil Rights Institute at Florida State University, Desmond Meade, activist and spokesperson for the push to restore felon voting rights in Florida, told the audience that the next civil rights milestone is just days away.

“Tick, tock,” refrained Desmond Meade, who also serves as the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. “Tick, tock.” 

To Meade, the days between now and the Nov. 6 election represent the amount of time left until Florida strikes “a fatal blow to Jim Crow laws,” which describe post-Civil War laws passed with the goal of segregation.

A former convicted felon, Meade is now one of the faces, names and stories behind Second Chances, a group involved in the united front to automatically restore some felon’s voting rights in Florida via Amendment 4. 

If it receives 60 percent voter approval on Election Day, Amendment 4 will automatically restore voting rights to felons who’ve completed their sentences, barring those convicted of sexual offenses or murder.

Florida’s constitutional policy of disenfranchising felons dates back more than 150 years.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the state is one of just three with a “lifetime voting ban for people with felony convictions.” The Center estimated in 2016 that around 1.6 million ex-cons await restoration of their voting rights.

Currently, a Florida felon who has completed their sentence can restore their voting rights through the state’s clemency process headed by the Governor and three Cabinet members. That process, however, was deemed unconstitutional in February by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker. In March, Walker followed up by ordering the Executive Clemency Board to devise a new method for restoring voting rights.

But in April, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Scott and the Cabinet a stay for Walker’s mandated deadline, meaning no immediate changes would come to Florida’s clemency system. It was considered a win for the state’s clemency process.

But Amendment 4, which this week polled at 69 percent approval, could render that legal fight moot.

And Meade, who traveled the stretches of the Sunshine State to get voters to sign the petition to put the amendment on the 2018 ballot, thinks it has the steam.

It’s polling well, Meade said. And it’s among the two amendments placed on the ballot “by the people.”

Of 12 amendments voters will face next Tuesday, 10 were sent to the ballot via the Legislature or the Constitution Revision Commission, an appointed panel that meets every 20 years to revise the state’s governing document. Amendment 3, which would give voters the “exclusive right” to determine whether to expand casino gambling in the state, is the only other amendment to have been placed on the November ballot via petition.

“We’re very confident,” Meade said. “This is what the people put on [the ballot].”

As well, Meade says there hasn’t been any formidable opposition to the ballot.

When speaking to the audience at FSU on Thursday evening, he explained why, for the most part, the amendment has picked up widespread appeal.

“How many people in the audience right now can raise their hand and say, ‘I don’t ever want to be forgiven for anything I’ve ever done, ever.'”

After no one in the 100-plus crowd lifted their arm, Meade quipped: “That’s how we’re polling.”

Written By

Danny McAuliffe is a Tallahassee correspondent for Florida Politics. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. He is a lifelong Floridian and indulges in swimming, hiking, running and memes when the news cycle permits. Reach him at dmcauliffe500@gmail.com.

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