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Blocked From The Ballot: Meet Desmond Meade, Who Has A Felony Conviction

Desmond Meade fills out his voter registration form in Orlando, Florida in January 2019.
Desmond Meade fills out his voter registration form in Orlando, Florida in January 2019.

Florida resident Desmond Meade says it was “the ultimate slap in the face” when his wife ran for office in 2016 and he couldn’t vote for her.

He was convicted on drug charges in the early 2000s. Because of Florida’s voting laws at the time, he was barred from voting years after completing his prison sentence.

“Nothing speaks more to citizenship than being able to vote, and I was voiceless,” he told us.

Then in 2018, the law changed — for some. Meade was the driving force behind Amendment 4, a ballot initiative that restored voting rights for those who’d completed the terms of their sentence, including parole and probation. 1.4 million Florida residents with felony convictions became eligible to vote— including Meade.

He registered to vote for the first time in January 2019.

“That was an amazing moment,” he told us. “It dawned on me that, now that I’m going to be able to vote for the very first time in my life, I would actually be able to lead my family to the polls and vote with them.”

Meade is continuing the fight to restore voting rights for individuals with felony convictions nationwide.

Estimates suggest  over six million Americans have been barred from voting because they’ve been convicted of a felony.

But the laws around voting rights vary greatly by state. In New York, people with felony convictions can automatically vote after incarceration, while they’re on probation or after completing parole. In Iowa, anyone convicted of a felony must get approval from the governor after their sentence in order to vote. And in Florida, there’s momentum to overturn a law that requires those with felony convictions to settle fines and restitution before they can vote.

We talk about the uphill battle for restoring these voting rights, and what impact the movement may have on the presidential election.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

Kathryn Fink, Kaity Kline
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