POLITICS
01/23/2018 03:21 pm ET

Former Felon Sheds Tears Of Joy As Effort To Restore Voting Rights Advances In Florida

“No one thought we would get here, but we’re here," Desmond Meade said.

Desmond Meade couldn’t wait any longer.

Meade, a former felon who was stripped of his voting rights in Florida, has been leading an initiative to get a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would automatically restore voting rights to former felons. Florida election officials on Tuesday certified that the initiative had garnered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

If approved by 60 percent of Florida voters, the measure could have significant consequences in the state, where more than 1.5 million people are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. That number accounts for about a quarter of the nationally disenfranchised population.

After the announcement, Meade, who was once homeless and now has a law degree, posted a video on Facebook to share his excitement. He described his journey from “being in front of the railroad tracks, getting ready to kill myself, high on crack and homeless” to potentially restoring voting rights to a huge population.

“I know I’m getting a little emotional right now, because only God knows the hard work that was put in to getting to this point,” said Meade, who is the chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy. “No one thought we would get here, but we’re here. We’re one step closer to liberating and giving over 1.68 million people a shot at redemption, a shot at restoration, a shot at citizenship, regain their citizenship. To know what it feels like to be an American citizen and have their voice heard. Whether they choose to or not, they will have that opportunity. Whoever they vote for, it don’t matter, as long as they have the opportunity to vote.”

Florida is one of just four states that permanently disenfranchises felons. Under the current system, felons who have completely finished their sentences can apply to have their rights restored, but the process is cumbersome and has moved at a glacial pace under Gov. Rick Scott (R).

“This is about forgiveness, redemption, restoration,” said Meade, who was once unable to vote for his wife when she ran for a seat in the Florida House. “Once a person pays their debt and it’s paid in full, they shouldn’t have to pay another thing.”

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