TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Could hundreds of thousands of former felons in Florida who are now eligible to vote tip the scale in the 2020 presidential election?
“It is so easy to get distracted from the most important thing that is happening right now in 2020 and that is elections will be going on,” Executive Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Desmond Meade said.
Meade spoke with 8 On Your Side after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle denied the state’s request to put his felons’ voting rights ruling on hold.
As the state challenges the decision in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Hillsborough County judicial officials have set up a path to restore voting rights for returning citizens who can’t afford to pay their legal obligations.
“I did my time, came home, I’m a productive citizen,” Kenneth Jackson said.
In the more than two decades since his release from prison, Jackson told 8 On Your Side he has gone to the polls before.
“Three to six months later,” he said, “I always got a letter telling me that my vote didn’t count.”
But two weeks ago, during the county’s first Voting Rights Docket, he had his right to vote restored.
“For those people who don’t think you have a chance to vote, give it a shot,” Jackson said.
Gov. DeSantis and Republican lawmakers have defended the 2019 state law requiring ex-felons to pay outstanding court costs before they’re eligible to vote.
They argue it carries out the wording “completed all terms” that appeared on the ballot when nearly two-thirds of Florida voters approved Amendment Four in November 2018.
But Judge Hinkle has ruled that amounts to an unconstitutional poll tax in violation of the 24th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which states citizens’ right to vote “shall not be abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll or other tax.”
“Elected officials should always seek to expand access to democracy to American citizens,” Meade said.
During the interview with Meade, 8 On Your Side asked him about his reaction to LeBron James and other starts forming a voting rights group called “More Than A Vote” ahead of the NBA’s expected return at Disney World.
“We would hope they would partner with grassroots organizations here in Florida,” he said. “I know they’re going to be in Orlando. We’re home based in Orlando. We would love that they would connect with us and so we can engage and get as many returning citizens as we can registered to vote and engage in our elections.”
Between now and November, Meade and the FRRC are focused on helping people to register to vote.
“As Florida goes, so does the rest of the country and a key factor in this race is gonna be how returning citizens are showing up in this election,” Meade said.
There is no doubt Jackson plans to show up on Election Day.
“I still got chills every time you mention going to vote,” he said.
The DeSantis administration made the unusual move on June 2 to ask the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to bypass the typical three-judge panel and instead have the full court hear it’s appeal.
“We are awaiting the decision of the 11th Circuit whether the case will be heard en banc, therefore we are unable to comment further on this issue,” the governor’s press secretary Cody McLoud said in an email to 8 On Your Side.
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