Speak up, vote, voice your opinion

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Speak up, vote, voice your opinion

Floridians have an important decision to make this November when they head to the polls, and it’s not just to elect the state’s governor. If you choose, you can restore a felon’s right to vote.

The Voting Restoration Amendment, which will be amendment number 4 on the ballot, will give voters the chance to decide if felons will regain their voting rights. Currently, in Florida, convicted felons need to be pardoned by the governor to restore their rights, and some crimes are not eligible.

Is this fair?

It is important to note that murderers and sex offenders are not included in this amendment.

Maine and Vermont are the only two states that allow felons to vote, even if they are incarcerated. However, Florida, Iowa and Kentucky have the strictest felon disenfranchisement policies, which result in a person permanently losing his or her voting rights unless pardoned by the governor. Even then, that person may have to pay fees, fines, and restitution, and the waiting period could last 5 to 10 years.

Do you think it is fair for someone to go to prison, see the error of their ways, get rehabilitated, serve their time, get out and make something of themselves, become an outstanding citizen, but still not have the right to vote?

Maybe they served time for stealing a couple of guns, wrote too many bad checks, or got busted for having a little marijuana on them. Should that be a reason to not allow that person to exercise his or her right to vote?

Desmond Meade is a prime example of this exact issue.

Meade served 15 years for possession of a firearm. After serving his time, Meade found himself homeless and addicted to drugs.

“Thirteen years ago, I found myself standing in front of railroad tracks. I was homeless, unemployed, recently released from prison, and addicted to drugs,” Meade said. “I had no future. I had no hope. I was waiting for a train to come, so I could jump in front of it.

Thankfully, no train came that day, and I crossed those tracks and checked myself into a rehabilitation program.”  

He earned a bachelor’s degree while living in a homeless shelter and completely turned his life around. A law school graduate and civic leader, Meade is not allowed to vote. Florida law excludes him from “the most important part of our civil society.” Is it fair to deny him of his voting rights? The married father of five served his time and is now a responsible citizen who paid all of his debts.

Sure, you can say, “he lost that right when he was behind bars,” but should that stay with him forever?

Consider a marijuana charge: If someone is charged with a small amount, he or she could still do time and lose their right to vote forever unless pardoned.

Do you agree with this?

Should crimes be considered on a case-by-case basis in regards to losing voting rights?

These are important issues to consider, especially with elections coming up in November.  Convicted felons need 60% of votes for the amendment to pass. If it does, it will restore 1.5 million people’s right to vote.

Amendment 4 is a “common-sense solution to fixing that broken system.”

How strongly would you feel if a convicted felon got out after serving 25 years for embezzlement and still had the right to vote? Would it upset you? Or would you not think too much about it?

All states have their rules and restrictions when it comes to felons’ right to vote. Some felons regain that right after their parole is up or their time has been served, but for felons in Florida, rights are automatically erased, no matter if the debts have been paid.

In 2011, Governor Rick Scott required felons convicted of nonviolent crimes to complete a waiting period of 5 years to have their rights restored––some have to wait 10 years. These waiting periods will be a thing of the past if amendment 4 passes.

Voting is a precious right, one that Meade, and countless others, are desperately trying to regain. They need your help. Exercise it, rise up, and voice your opinion by heading to the polls on November 6th.