• Mary Harrison

Tallahassee rally seeks ex-felon voting rights reform

On Thursday, April 26, 2018, former criminals and others marched to the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. to raise awareness for Amendment 4, an amendment being voted on this fall that would allow ex-felons to vote. The march culminated in a rally at the Capitol building featuring nationally known activist Rev. Al Sharpton, who spoke in support of the amendment, as well as gun restrictions, multiple sources report.

About 200 marchers gathered at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church (BMBC) before marching one-half mile to the Capitol building, chanting “No justice, no peace,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

Florida is one of four states, including Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia, that does not automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons. Currently, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, former felons wishing to end their disenfranchisement (being denied the right to vote) must apply to the state’s Office of Executive Clemency for one of the few pardons granted. As a result, an estimated 1.5 million Floridians are unable to vote because of previous felony convictions, WXTL reports.

Amendment 4 is an amendment to Florida’s constitution that would automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent ex-felons after their sentences finish. It will be on the ballot for Floridians to decide during Florida’s state-wide elections this November.

Mark McMillan and Paula Hill, both former felons, are supporters of Amendment 4 who attended the Thursday’s events, according to the Democrat. Hill is now part of BMBC’s Ready4Work, a program which helps ex-criminals mix back into society. “I’ve made a lot of changes,” Hill said, pointing out the help she has received managing her emotions. McMillan also underwent a transformation in his life: originally arrested for multiple crimes, he is now a Christian prison minister.

At the event’s concluding rally, Rev. Al Sharpton joined Mayor Andrew Gillum, Tallahassee minister Rev. R.B. Holmes, jr., and attorney Benjamin Crump in decrying the disenfranchisement of ex-felons and calling for change.

“If you don’t want to restore their rights to vote, why do you restore that they have to pay taxes?” Sharpton asked. He claimed that “Florida will be ground zero for us to turn around this affront on voting rights.”

According to WCTV, felons’ voting rights will be a hot topic for the Sunshine State’s 2018 governor’s election.