About this episode:
With 41 days until Election Day, voters across the country are already casting their ballots. But in Florida, thousands of former felons can’t even register to vote. The problem? They’ve served their time, but they haven’t paid the court fees, fines and restitution – and that’s considered part of their sentence.
In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a ballot measure that would allow those with felony convictions to register to vote, so long as the crime committed was not murder or sexual abuse. The new law made as many as 1.4 million Floridians with felony records eligible to register. But in 2019, the Governor of Florida signed a bill limiting those rights until felons have completed all the terms of their sentences, including the payment of court debts. Many are simply too poor to pay those debts or, because there is no central database of court fines and fees, it is impossible to know exactly what they owe.
A federal appeals court has upheld the law, and now, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is leading the rush to raise money to pay off as many debts as possible before October 5, the voter registration deadline in Florida.
For more than a decade, Desmond Meade cycled in and out of the criminal justice system, mostly on felony drug charges. Now, Meade is the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. In this episode, he discusses the personal struggles that led him to fight for voting rights, the work it took to get Amendment 4 passed, and the current fight to help people pay their fines so they can finally vote.
Find the transcript here.
Further Reading and Viewing:
- Court struggles with felon vote in Fla., case could determine participation in November
- Ex-felons vote in Florida after overcoming prison — and the GOP
- ‘You need your voting power’: Florida’s ex-felons fight for their voting rights