It’s been 22 years since Xavier Thomas was released from prison in Georgia. In that time, Thomas has gone on to get married and have three children. He’s opened up his own business and been a taxpayer. He’s stayed clean and out of trouble. But 44-year-old Thomas still cannot vote. He can’t sit on a jury or serve in office. He wouldn’t be able to apply for a gun permit if he wanted one. In short, because of his record as an ex-felon, Thomas is not afforded the civil rights others who have not done time may take for granted. Like so many other former convicts in Florida, Thomas is considered a second-class citizen in the eyes of the law.
Currently, state residents with prior felony convictions are permanently disqualified to vote unless they receive clemency from the governor’s office. The number of Floridians who fall under this group is 1.7 million, according to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, based out of Orlando.
That group, along with other grassroots organizations, are pushing to amend the state constitution, a movement that appears to be gaining some momentum. If successful, a referendum to change the law could appear on voters’ ballots in 2018. Restoration of civil rights would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses.
It’s a reform Thomas sees as long in coming. “Once you’ve served your time, you should have the same rights as other citizens,” Thomas said. “Can you imagine how many other Americans — black Americans, especially — who are in my same situation?”