Desmond Meade of Orlando has traveled from the Panhandle to Miami, all for the cause of restoring voting rights to 1.6 million non-violent ex-felons such as himself. But there is so much more to do. “I’ve put over 150,000 miles on my car,” said Meade, the head of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. “Whether it’s the rural parts of the state or the urban centers, the message is the same. … Second chances. That’s what it’s all about.” Meade, a former addict convicted on drug and firearm charges in 2001 who later earned a law degree, successfully gathered more than 70,000 verified signatures for his petition to place an amendment to the Florida constitution, which then triggered a review by the state Supreme Court. But despite the successful hearing, in which the court allowed the process to proceed, Meade and his group still have a momentous challenge ahead.
They need about 700,000 more signatures by Feb. 1 in order to get the amendment on the ballot next year – and even then, it still needs more than 60 percent of the vote to become law.
“It’s very tough when you look at history,” said Darryl Paulson, emeritus professor of government at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. “It’s going to take [an] educational process, and it depends how much money the restoration movement can raise.”
Paulson estimated there’s probably “no better than a 50/50 chance” the measure gets the required number of signatures by 2018.