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How “returning citizen” Desmond Meade helped restore voting rights to Florida’s ex-felons

How “returning citizen” Desmond Meade helped restore voting rights to Florida’s ex-felons
[Photo illustration: Daisy Korpics; Xavier McCleary (Meade); Flickr user JC; Flickr user Steve Garfield; Flickr user vanherdehaage; Flickr user Chapendra; Flickr user Daniel Parks; Flickr user Neeta Lind; Flickr user Steve Rainwater; Unknown/Wikimedia Commons; Flickr user Gage Skidmore]


Florida voters made a landmark decision to restore voting rights to 1.4 million ex-felons via a ballot initiative last November that amended the state’s constitution. Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and a “returning citizen” himself, led the effort, traversing the state for two years to help collect more than 760,000 signatures for the measure and then advocating for its passage. Meade, who obtained his law degree but is unable to practice because of previous felony convictions, petitioned for the amendment in liberal and conservative counties alike, speaking to anyone he could, even those who claimed to be tough on crime. “Our win showed that you can move major policy issues when you’re able to transcend politics,” he says. “We had about 1 million folks who voted for Amendment 4 who voted for [Republican] Governor DeSantis. It was an eye-opener.” He’s now defending the amendment as the Florida Legislature wrestles with how to implement it. But one thing is clear: “Elected officials are going to have to figure out how to engage these potential new voters,” he says, “including myself.”

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