Let My People Vote: My Battle to Restore the Civil Rights of Returning Citizens
The 2021 MacArthur Fellows were recently announced and the list of recipients of the so-called “Genius Grant” include Desmond Meade, President and Executive Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition which spearheaded the 2018 Amendment 4 ballot initiative. Its successful passage led to the largest expansion of voting rights in the U.S. in 50 years. We’re revisiting this conversation we had with Mr. Meade about his book “Let My People Vote: My Battle to Restore the Civil Rights of Returning Citizens.” This episode originally aired on March 2, 2021.
In 2018 almost 65% of Florida voters cast ballots in support of Amendment 4 to the state constitution, the ballot initiative to restore voting rights to citizens who’d been convicted of certain felonies after they had completed their sentences. Its successful passage restored voting rights to more than 1.4 million Floridians — at least that’s what its authors intended.
Despite strong bipartisan support, as soon as Amendment 4 passed the Republican legislature limited its scope to only include people who owed no money to the state. After a series of court challenges, on September 11, 2020 the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the requirement for felons to pay fines did not violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and so former felons couldn’t vote until they paid all fees and fines. That means about 774,000 people with outstanding legal financial obligations still cannot register to vote.
But, it does mean more than half a million people with prior felony convictions can now register to vote in Florida, and many have. This is a drastic shift in how Florida restores voting rights to former felons — prior to its passage they were almost certain to remain disenfranchised for the rest of their lives. It represents the largest expansion of voting rights in the U.S. in half a century.
We speak with Desmond Meade, he was a driving force behind the passage of Amendment 4. Meade is President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, and author of the book “Let My People Vote: My Battle to Restore the Civil Rights of Returning Citizens” which recounts his struggles with addiction and homelessness before turning his life toward public service and the Amendment 4 campaign.