Activist to address voter disenfranchisement


A statewide campaign to give ex-convicts who have served their time back their voting rights is making a stop in Key West this weekend.

Desmond Meade, an attorney and president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, will speak on the subject in Key West at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Coral City Elks Lodge, 1107 Whitehead St.

“Any felony conviction would strip an American citizen of their civil rights, their ability to vote,” Meade said. “Driving with a suspended license, trespassing on construction property, having a lobster whose tail is too short.”

Florida has the highest rate of voter disenfranchisement in the U.S., permanently barring for life all citizens with felony convictions from voting unless they individually apply to the state Office of Executive Clemency for rights restoration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

This lifetime ban policy keeps more than 1.6 million Floridians – including more than one in five African-Americans in the state – from the polls each election.

A movement of civic and faith-based groups is behind a proposed state constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to convicts who finish their entire sentence, including probation. Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded.

The nonpartisan coalition wants Florida to join the 40 or so states that automatically restore voting rights of those with a felony conviction upon completion of a prison sentence.

Saturday’s free event is hosted by the lodge, Women’s March Florida Keys and the Key West National Organization of Women.

Florida is the largest of three states in the U.S. that permanently bar citizens with felony convictions from voting again except with approval through the clemency process.

Meade struggled with addiction, homelessness, rehabilitation and the justice system — where he was sentenced and served several years in prison. He eventually earned a law degree from Florida International University.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen