Floridians threw their support behind Amendment 4, which will restore the voting rights to more than a million citizens.
The passing of Amendment 4 will change more than 1 million lives throughout the state of Florida.
The Amendment restores voting rights to citizens that have been convicted of certain felonies. Those who qualify must complete their sentences, which includes prison time, parole and probationary periods. This does not apply to those who were convicted of murder or felony sex crimes.
Of the approximately 1.4 million people who are currently kept out of the voting booth because of a past felony, the most impacted are African-Americans. Plant City locals came together Saturday at New Grace Chapel C.M.E Church to discuss the Amendment and rally support for its passing.
“It’s pivotal because I think the culture around voting, especially in communities of color around here is very hostile,” Aaron Sykes, community organizer, said. “Meaning it’s either a status quo that we just don’t talk about it or its a status quo of we’re complacent with the system or that there’s not a healthy relationship with communities of color around here and voting.”
More than 20% of African-American adults in Florida are deprived of the right to vote because of the current process. While former Gov. Jeb Bush and then Gov. Charlie Christ were in office, approximately 75,000 and 150,000 people respectively had their voting rights restored under loosened clemency laws. That all came to a screeching halt under Gov. Rick Scott.
During Saturday’s event, which was a partnership between a variety of groups including Let My People Vote and Souls to the Polls, members of the local faith-based community came out to discuss the amendment and listen to testimonies of those impacted by the current system.
Sykes said those who have theological mindsets, whether they practice Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc., tend to approach issues with the firm belief that everyone deserves forgiveness. Most in attendance had an open mind about restoring rights but did have apprehensions about the details of the policy. They wanted clearer information about the timeline and had questions about the specifics of how the policy would be implemented.
The goal was to create a safe space and open platform for people to come and voice their opinions and discuss the details of the then-proposed Amendment. Sykes said he wanted attendees to hear a rhetoric that was invigorating and uplifting, which he said often is the antitheses of the language normally heard within the community.
“I think when you talk about oppression or communities that face the end result of voter suppression in the state of Florida, the ones who are affected by these policies the most are the ones who are not voting because they are perceiving or believing that ‘This is the way the system treats me so why participate?’” Sykes said. “However, you can’t hold politicians accountable unless you participate.”
While Sykes was talking to voters at the polls on Tuesday he said he met a young woman who was a mother of three. He was shocked to discover she had once been convicted of a felony and that it took 10 years for her to get her rights back. She told him the “policy was backwards.”
He said after hearing how this has impacted her both socially and mentally and yet seeing her persevere he had no choice but to admire her strength and determination. He said it furthered his dedication to winning the restoration of rights.
Amendment 4 passed Tuesday evening when 64% of Floridians agreed it was time to end the restrictive process and restore felons’ voting rights.
“I feel that this is the right thing and the right direction for the state of Florida to go,” Sykes said. “I think its pivotal for our justice system to be committed to reform as well. As we grow as a society I think that should be reflected in our criminal justice system.”