Yesterday, the people of Florida overcame a huge hurdle to restoring citizenship to 1.8 million people who have had their voting rights taken away due to a criminal conviction. For decades, elections have focused in on Florida's voters; and for decades, commentators and politicians have spoken about America's democracy without even mentioning the lifetime denial of democracy's cornerstone: voting rights. One might have thought this was an easy ask, to give universal voting rights, considering that Florida's own study proved that people who voted had lower rates of recidivism.
This effort was led by directly impacted people, struggling for freedom, citizenship, and a place to stand. People who struggled to find resources to build an infrastructure to move forward for themselves. Last year, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition brought VOTE's Norris Henderson and Bruce Reilly to their retreat. We saw first hand who was involved and what they brought to the table. Their assembly of leaders from throughout the state made a commitment to gather 766,200 signatures to get this issue on the ballot. It was clear to us that these people, many who had no current right to vote, had the strength of character and determination to pull of such an unlikely victory. Desmond Meade has proven his leadership, and how essential it is that leadership reflect the people whose rights are at stake.
Coming on the heels of Alabama's highly publicized impact of jail-based voter registration by The Ordinary People's Society, Florida's ballot initiative and Louisiana's litigation (VOTE v. Louisiana) are indications that the South may indeed "rise again." But after millions of people impacted by the System start to vote, the South will never look the same again.