Faith in Florida, a network of churches that organize around political and racial issues, are defending and creating a ballot to submit in 2016 for felons.
The organization held a training session on Saturday at their Duval and College Street office, informing trainees on the cause and the correct way to gather petitions.
The ballot, Voting Restoration Amendment, was created by Faith in Florida’s State Director, Desmond Meade.
The ballot updates our criminal justice system to match the justice in other states. After a person convicted of a felony completes all terms of their sentence, including parole and probation, they can earn their rights back.
Florida is one of three states with a lifetime ban on voting after a person is convicted of a felony. In other states, prisoners are restored full rights immediately after finishing their sentence. Maine and Vermont even allow their prisoners to vote while serving their sentence.
The training was held by Regional Director of the north chapter of Faith in Florida, Jabari Paul. He stressed that there is an economic piece that needs to be highlighted nationwide.
“Research shows, that if you restore citizen’s rights after they leave prison, they are less likely to commit crimes than citizens who still cannot become whole (restored) citizens,” Paul said. “It reduces the recidivism rate, and it is a heft price to pay, from taxpayers pocket, to keep people incarcerated.”
The ballot must have 100,000 signatures by May 2015, to qualify to be voted on in 2016. These signatures are required to be from different regions of Florida.
In North Florida, the organization needs 2,800 votes, and they plan on achieving that by targeting groups and organizations to sign up.
Melanie Andrade, member of the Tallahassee Dream Defenders, also worked for Gwen Graham on her last campaign.
“A part of my job was to register African-Americans, on the south side of Tallahassee, to vote and I would always encounter people who didn’t even know if they had their rights restored,” Andrade said.
Jamall Williams, a convicted felon in the state of Florida has been out of prison for eight months.
“Of course I am interested, but I just don’t know how to go about getting my rights restored,” Williams said. “I was never instructed while incarcerated and it doesn’t seem like anyone else that I know, knows how to either.”
After completing their sentence, felons have to wait five years to apply to restore their rights then they must wait to be seen by the Board of Executive Clemency.
“Once a person has done their time, or debt, to society they should be given a second chance to become a whole citizen again.” Paul said.
The board only meets four times a year and if they deem you unfit, they will tell you to start over.