ORLANDO, Fla. — Inside the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition building, Desmond Meade is beyond happy.

“They were votes of love and forgiveness. They weren’t votes of fear, they weren’t votes of hate, they weren’t votes of anger — those 5.1 million votes were votes of love,” said Desmond Meade, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Executive Director.

For years he’s been denied the right to vote because of his past, even though he has paid his debt to society.

“In 2016 my wife ran for office, and in spite of me paying my debts years ago, I still couldn’t even vote for her,” Meade said. “Tuesday night on the sixth I looked at my wife as I hugged her, and I told her, ‘I can vote for you now.’”

He is even more influential to this amendment, as he is its official sponsor. Meade works for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, and thanks to their work on January 8, 2019 felons who have paid their debt, outside of murder and sex offenders, will not need additional paperwork or proof when they register to vote.  

“The burden is on the state to prove that someone is not eligible to vote,” Meade said. “We are very confident that this language is solid. The Supreme Court has approved the language.”

Even Orange County Elections General Counsel backed this up, explaining once a person fills out the voter registration paperwork, the paperwork is sent to the state, with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or other governmental agencies checking on the person’s criminal history, including if all of the terms of their sentence have been met.

If the person is flagged as not meeting the requirements, they are still given the opportunity to bring proof of their completed sentence.

The Florida Department of Corrections also said it is “reviewing its protocols and policies and will work with the appropriate agencies, including the Florida Commission on Offender Review, to ensure compliance with Florida law as it is implemented.”

Felons can start registering to vote next year. Under Article XI, Section 5(e) of the Florida Constitution it states, “Unless otherwise specifically provided for elsewhere in this constitution, if the proposed amendment or revision is approved by vote of at least sixty percent of the electors voting on the measure, it shall be effective as an amendment to or revision of the constitution of the state on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January following the election, or on such other date as may be specified in the amendment or revision.”

For Meade, he feels confident that for those who qualify, it will be a gratifying process.

“I have full confidence that our elected officials and or appointed officials of the state will respect the rule of law and honor what the highest law in our state,” he said.

The next state election is 2020, so if problems within the system do arise, there is time for things to be fixed.

Meade says anyone experiencing issues can contact the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition or the American Civil Liberties Union.