Every year when November comes, I immediately think of Thanksgiving and what I am thankful for. This year, November also means midterm elections and exercising our right to vote. I recognize, though, that not everyone is able to participate in this essential part of our democratic process whether it is due to misinformation, cumbersome voter registration laws, or felony disenfranchisement laws. Being able to vote allows us to share our voice and help shape the direction of this country. Breaking down the barriers to voting is critical to making sure all voices are heard. That is why this year, I am so thankful that Florida voters passed Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to more than one million citizens with a felony conviction.
Voting has always been something I treasure and look forward to, and so does my daughter Claire. Each election day, we wake up early and stand in line regardless of the weather—we have voted together in every election since she was born! Like me, Claire loves the energy surrounding elections as people come to the polls in droves to express their views and contribute their voice to the governing bodies of our country. This year I thought about voting early, but Claire said “no way mom” for these very reasons. Interacting with folks as they wait in line, hearing the excitement in their voices, and watching our democratic process in action is something that can’t be beaten. And now, more than one million people in Florida will be able to experience that as well.
With the passing of Amendment 4, only three states’, Kentucky, Iowa, and Virginia, constitutions permanently disenfranchise citizens with past felony convictions. While change certainly still needs to happen, it is important to stop and be thankful for the incremental progress we are making as a nation. We are a country that recognizes second chances, yet our laws do not always match that belief. Floridians, though, have spoken in this election and said enough is enough; returning citizens deserve another chance; a bad decision should not define one’s entire identity; and we should not be relegated for life as a result. Standing up and saying citizens with felony convictions deserve to be part of our democratic processes and are still entitled to exercising their right to vote shows that we recognize mistakes, forgive, and welcome our returning citizens. And while we still have a way to go to lift up our fellow citizens, I am thankful that Floridians have recognized and voted to promote second chances and inclusion. And if we can take something from Florida, maybe in the next election, there will be more ballot initiatives that restore voting rights to disenfranchised citizens, particularly in Kentucky, Iowa, and Virginia.
– Director Kim Ball, Justice Programs Office