Student Stories

Felon Voting Rights: Vote Everywhere Ambassadors Join Restoration Efforts in Florida

One hundred and fifty years ago, a law that denied people the right to vote was introduced into the Florida state constitution. That law still exists today. In Florida, a felony conviction can result in a lifetime of exclusion. It limits your ability to make decisions in your own community or have your voice heard. The only way formerly incarcerated Floridians can recover their voting rights is with the approval of the governor, who holds an average of four clemency hearings a year. During each of these hearings, less than 100 cases are reviewed. That means that 98% of the 20,000 backlog of people currently waiting for their cases to be considered will have to keep waiting.

The Andrew Goodman Foundation believes that everyone should have equal access to the ballot. This is why our Ambassadors from four Vote Everywhere schools in the state of Florida have teamed up with Engage Miami and joined the Say Yes to Second Chances campaign to put a proposed amendment to the law on the 2018 ballot.

“I was really moved when I attended the Say Yes to Second Chances petition-signing training. We met two formerly incarcerated people who still don’t have the right to vote–one of them is in law school and the other was released more than fifty years ago. It reaffirmed that fully increasing access to the polls is everything Vote Everywhere stands for and everything I stand for,” said Megan Newsome, a Vote Everywhere Team Leader at The University of Florida.

The ballot initiative, known as “The Voting Restoration Amendment,” needs 766,200 valid signatures across all 27-congressional districts in Florida to make it to the ballot in 2018. As of November 2017, the petition has a total of 750,000 signatures, with 301,064 verifications. If successful, the campaign could restore voting rights to more than 150,000 non-violent felons.

When asked why joining the statewide effort was important to her team, Brenda Coromina, Vote Everywhere Team Leader at Miami Dade College’s Kendall Campus, said, “Impediments to voting like this push the idea that people don’t matter in the political process. Removing this law would show people here in Florida that they do matter and their voices are being taken into consideration.”

All of Florida’s Vote Everywhere teams have been working to provide additional support to local organizations leading the campaign. Signees must be registered to vote in order for their signature to be valid. The address on the petition form should also match the address the voter is registered under. These are the kind of questions Vote Everywhere Ambassadors were charged with clarifying.

At the University of Florida, the city of Gainesville has already met its signature quota so Ambassadors are now running campus-wide felon rights education efforts. At Miami Dade College- the Kendall, North, and Wolfson campuses have been systemizing the Say Yes to Second Chances campaign.  They have briefed students about the petition during voter registration drives and collected signatures during tabling events. All four teams had the opportunity to meet and speak with Miami State Senator Senator Dwight Bullard earlier in the fall.

“We encourage our campus teams to partner with other groups and build coalitions because it increases your audience and, therefore, increases your potential impact on your campus and community,” explained Margaret Sasser, Vote Everywhere Program Development and Evaluation Manager. As the Say Yes to Second Chances campaign aims to collect a million signatures by year end, Sasser remains central to organizing the Florida Vote Everywhere teams. She continues, “Andrew Goodman was a champion of voting rights for everyone. We believe that a formerly convicted people, who have fulfilled their time and their commitments, deserve the right to vote.”

About the Author

Kevin Hurtado is the Communications and Development Associate at Andrew Goodman Foundation. He graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey with a Bachelor’s in International Studies and a minor in Human Rights and Genocide. Previously, Kevin worked as an Executive Assistant and Office Manager at Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting educational equity in the city of Newark.