Our nation is at a reckoning. We are deep in a social justice movement that is changing our nation, power structures and the status quo as we know it. Now, amid one of the nation’s most critical elections, those in power are trying to block hundreds of thousands of people from voting, and in doing so, eroding our country’s democratic promise.
Recently, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that returning citizens, people with past felony convictions, in Florida must pay fines and fees before they can register to vote. This forces hundreds of thousands of Florida citizens to choose between putting food on their table and exercising their right to vote. This decision is an affront to justice and a clear attack on the voting rights of the 1.4 million Florida residents like us.
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In 2018, Amendment 4 was passed by a two-thirds majority of Florida voters, finally restoring 1.4 million returning citizens the right to vote. However, there are democracy deniers set on perpetuating a legacy of hurdles and hoops to keep some people from voting. They are requiring that all returning citizens, even those who are unable to pay, to first pay all fines, costs, and fees associated with their court cases before voting–what one federal judge called a pay-to-vote mandate. This means people with outstanding fines, which may or may not be fair, have to choose between putting food on the table or paying to vote.
This mandate specifically and disproportionately impacts the nation’s most marginalized voters. We can do better.
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As two returning citizens, we know how devastating it is to live with the fact that, even after we have done all we can to serve our sentence, so many of us are still considered unworthy of our inalienable voting rights. That is why we are raising funds to help Florida’s returning citizens get their voting rights restored, and why we’ve declared Saturday, September 19, 2020 the first ever VoteTeenth.
VoteTeenth is a day of action to free the vote for returning citizens. VoteTeenth evokes the spirit of Juneteenth: when in 1865, enslaved persons in Galveston, Texas learned their freedom had been granted two years prior by the Emancipation Proclamation.
Just like in Galveston, there are people across Florida today who are free to vote because of Amendment 4’s passage in 2018, but don’t yet know it. We want them to know. This VoteTeenth, we want people like us to know they are supported, and that they have power – or at a minimum, that there is a pathway to power. That is why we are joining together to raise awareness about Florida voting rights and pay the fines and fees of as many returning citizens as possible.
We believe that an enfranchised nation is good for everyone, and want to see returning citizens all across the state freely and fairly voting in November. If you are a returning citizen with outstanding fines and fees, please sign up through the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition’s Fines and Fees Fund. FRRC can work with you on your specific case. We can work with you on your fines and fees, and ultimately help get you registered to vote.
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Because we had our right to vote taken away, we know how important that right is. We know that it is bigger than just our individual voice. When we go to the polls in November, we won’t just be voting for us. We’ll be voting for our families; for our beautiful children; for the 1.4 million other returning citizens like us, who are still fighting for their right to vote;and for our ancestors who –like us– were prevented from voting for so long. We’ll see you there.
And we will see you on VoteTeenth.
Michael Vick is a returning citizen, sports analyst and former NFL quarterback residing in Florida. He is registered to vote November 2020. Desmond Meade is a returning citizen and FRRC executive director residing in Florida. He cast his first vote in 30 years in Florida’s 2020 primary. Visit Floridarrc.com to donate and learn more about defending our nation’s democracy.