Thursday is the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
For an update on Florida’s legal battle on restoring voting rights to many ex-prisoners, WMNF spoke with the main proponent of Amendment 4, Desmond Meade. He is the executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.
SK: Well let’s begin with just talking about today being the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Why is that important?
“Today, being that anniversary Sof the Voting Rights Act, really, I think it’s extra special to someone like me. You know, I’m a person who lost the right to vote because of a previous felony conviction.
“And I was part of the movement, actually led the movement, here in Florida, to re-enfranchise people formerly convicted of felony offenses. And we were successful in doing so.
“And so, as a person who lost the right to vote, and has fought long and hard to get it back, there is a deep appreciation for the Voting Rights Act.”
SK: The U.S. House wants to restore some of the parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were overturned by the US Supreme Court ruling. And, they named the new bill after late Congress member John Lewis. How important would something like that be to voting in America?
“That will be extremely important. When you really think about voting, when you think about our democracy, right? That we should inspire to be a country that expands our democracy, makes it more inclusive, knowing that the more inclusive democracy is the more vibrant the democracy. And, the more vibrant the democracy is good for everyone.
And so, our states, they should be committed to engaging in practices that clears a pathway for every citizen to be able to participate in elections, not create obstructions.
“And states that are doing so, I believe, really are breaking a contract that they have with its citizens.”
SK: And, one of the states could be considered to be Florida, even though the people of Florida voted for Amendment 4 to restore the rights to vote to most people who had been incarcerated. The legislature and the governor kind of put up roadblocks and that’s working its way through the courts. What would you say to someone who still owes fines and fees, and is concerned about registering to vote in the election in November?
“The first thing I would tell anyone who may think that they have fines and fees, or don’t know how much they owe, is we are here to help you. There’s an organization in Florida, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, and we are 100% committed to walking with each and every individual every step of the way.
“And we have started a fines and fees fund where we’ve been able to raise a significant amount of dollars, which we are dedicating to helping people who have fines and fees, pay their fines and fees off.
“So, we’re here for you. All they have to do is contact us. It’s very simple. They could just text the word FINES to the number 82623. Once again, text the keyword FINES to the number 82623. Or they can call our 1-800 number which is 1-887-MY-VOTE-0 (877-698-6830).
“And we have staff that’s on standby, waiting to help anyone, any one of the 1.4 million, who wants to participate in their democracy. We’re going to be fighting tooth-and-nail to make sure that you get that opportunity.”
SK: And, there’s still time before the November election to register to vote for people who had their rights taken away, and if there’s a way for them to restore those rights.
“Yes. Time is shortening. But, we have until October 5th to get people registered. And, we are working around the clock, 7 days a week. Trust me when I say this. Every single day of the week, we’re doing some type of work to ensure that people have that opportunity.”
SK: Let me ask you about news that happened this week. Iowa’s governor, Kim Reynolds, signed an executive order that granted convicted felons the right to vote, and ended Iowa’s place as the only remaining state to broadly deny voting rights to felons. What’s your reaction to what’s happening in Iowa?
“When I heard the news about Iowa, I was like, ‘that’s what it’s all about.’ That, at the end of the day — whether you’re Republican, whether you’re Democrat, whether you’re independent, or don’t even have any preference, right — at the end of the day, deep in the heart of every American citizen, I believe, is a desire to have a vibrant democracy.
“And that every American citizen should have that opportunity to weigh in during elections. And so, when the Iowa governor signed that executive order, I thought that was an amazing thing, especially coming from a conservative governor.
“That shows that when we talk about voting, it should transcend partisan politics. It’s about humanity. It’s about what it means to be an American citizen in this country. It’s about how we want our democracy to actually operate.”
SK: Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, is there anything else you’d like to leave our listeners before I let you go?
“Right now, I tell folks that, you know, our state, the State of Florida, and the courts are right now holding democracy hostage in Florida. And that we are calling on every American citizen that believes in democracy, right, to not look at the Supreme Court decision as a setback, but rather as an opportunity to step up and free democracy in Florida.
“We also looking at this as an opportunity for people, like me and other returning citizens in Florida, to step up and make sure that we do everything that we can to register to vote, and participate in elections. Because, at the heart of this issue, is that a state should not force any of its citizens to decide between putting food on the table for their kids or voting.
“A state should not have to decide — force its citizens to decide — about paying rent or being able to vote. Right? The Ballot Box should be accessible to every able-bodied American citizen in spite of their economic status.”
Watch more of this interview here:
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