Believe in Second Chances? Help Return Voting Access to 1.6 Million Floridians

October 24, 2017

Cartoon of a ballot box

Do you believe in second chances?

We do. And we think that the state of Florida should as well. Florida is one of just four states that permanently bar felons from voting, even non-violent offenders who have paid their debt to society and are living in their communities. This is not only wrong, it’s anti-democratic and un-American.

Our good friend, Desmond Meade, has been working hard to change this. The Say Yes to Second Chances campaign wants to pass an amendment that would restore the ability to vote and fully participate in our democracy to every Floridian who committed a nonviolent felony and completed their sentence. But Desmond and the campaign need our help.


The Situation

More than 6 million American citizens were barred from voting during the 2016 election because they were once convicted of a felony. In Florida alone, that number was about 1.6 million. Think about that for moment: millions of Americans are kept from exercising their rights as citizens even after they’ve served their time in our “justice” system.

If you make a mistake and face the consequences for that mistake, should you really be treated as a second-class citizen for the rest of your life? That makes no sense. And if you’re thinking that felons must all be dangerous people who deserve their lot, consider the kinds of crimes that are felonies in Florida: catching a lobster whose tail is too short, driving on a suspended license, releasing helium balloons into the air…

We all know someone who’s made a mistake. It’s a good bet that most of us have made mistakes ourselves. So these people are our neighbors, our family members—maybe they’re even looking right back at us in the mirror! It’s time to do the right thing.


The Amendment

The Voting Restoration Amendment returns the ability to vote to people with prior felony convictions. Here’s the fine print:

  • People must fully complete all terms of their sentence, including probation and parole, before they earn back their right to vote.
  • The Amendment doesn’t apply to people who’ve committed murder or sexual offenses.

Sounds reasonable and just to us.


The Power of the People

What Desmond and his campaign have accomplished so far is astounding. Never in Florida’s history has any grassroots ballot initiative gone this far.

They gathered 70,000 verified signatures to trigger a review by the Florida Supreme Court. The court ruled that the proposed amendment met all applicable standards and let the push to place it on the November 2018 ballot go forward.

That was a huge victory. But there’s a lot of work to be done. They now need to gather ten times more—700,000+ signatures—before February 1, 2018, to guarantee the amendment a place on the ballot. Which is... a lot of signatures. And when it does get on the ballot, 60% or more of the voters must approve it for it to become law.


Making a Better Florida

So what can we do? The ACLU has stepped in and committed to spending at least $5 million to gather those signatures. (700,000? No problem. They’re going for a million!) That’s great news, but success still depends on all of us coming together to make it happen.

If you are a Florida resident, visit Say Yes to Second Chances to sign up to volunteer at some of the many events planned all over the state. (How does hanging out collecting signatures at a tailgate party before an NFL game sound?) If you don’t live in Florida, then get on the phone to your friends and relatives and tell them about all of the above! And remember, you can donate to the campaign no matter where you live.

Democracy only works when it works for everyone. Come on, Florida: show us what a real democracy looks like!