Desmond Meade of Orlando did everything he could to support his wife, Sheena, in her unsuccessful run for the Florida House last year. But the one thing he couldn’t do was vote for her. “Basically, I was told I wasn’t a citizen anymore,” said Meade, one of about 1.7 million people in Florida permanently barred from voting because of a past felony conviction, despite having completed their sentences. Now, a group led by Meade, a former addict convicted on drug and firearm charges in 2001 who went on to earn a law degree, appeared before the state Supreme Court on Monday in an important step in getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot. If it makes the ballot and wins approval by voters, the amendment would restore voting rights to felons who have completed sentences for nonviolent felonies.
“It’s the most amazing thing,” Meade said of the more than 75,000 verified signatures collected so far by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition from across the state. “We were able — with no money, and no significant source of funding — to gather enough signatures for Supreme Court review.”
The people collecting signatures, he said, represent “a wide spectrum of Americans — white, black, Latino, young and old, conservative and progressive. Just people who believe in second chances.”
Florida is one of just three states in the nation that permanently bars ex-felons from voting unless they receive clemency. Even among those three, Florida is an outlier due to Gov. Rick Scott’s strict standards.