Local group works to register ex-felons to vote

Pictured second to the left is Bob Rackleff founding member of Big Bend Voting Rights Project a political organization with three volunteers before they head door to door on their voters registration campaign.
Picture courtesy of Big Bend Voting Rights Project Facebook page. 

There’s a strong effort underway to get ex-felons registered to vote following the passage of Amendment 4 in November.

The change went into effect in January, restoring the right to individuals who have completed all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment does not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses.

A law was passed that requires ex-felons to pay restitution, fines, and court costs in full before casting their ballot. This is stopping some from even registering. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, before the amendment, anyone convicted of a felony had to have voting rights restored by a full pardon, conditional pardon, or restoration of civil rights by the governor. The Executive Clemency Board set the rules for restoration of civil rights, which at the time the amendment passed, included a 5- or 7-year waiting period and a list of crimes for which an individual could never apply for rights restoration.

Big Bend Voting Rights Project aims to carry out voter registration efforts in 10 counties, roughly all counties within a one-hour drive of Tallahassee.  The counties include Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla, Gadsden, Jackson, Liberty, Calhoun and Franklin.

The goal of the organization is to maximize the number of registered returning citizens eligible under Amendment 4 as soon as possible.  Once all the fees are paid, the voter’s registration process must be done. Once that is complete, a voter’s registration card will be sent in the mail.

The excitement was evident for ex-offender Mark McMillan when he finally received his card. “This is what Amendment 4 does, I am so proud to be a partaker and to benefit from Amendment 4,” McMillan said.  

Another issue ex-felons face is not knowing if they can register. "They are the most marginalized people in our society, who are generally uninformed about their rights under Amendment 4, and they don't have access to the kind of information you and I do. They tend to remember what they heard when they got out of prison or off probation," said Bob Rackleff, founding member of Big Bend Voting Rights Project.

That’s why Rackleff recruits volunteers to go door to door every Saturday to register voters.  Since April, the door-to-door campaign has sent 261 applications to the Leon County Supervisor of Elections

“Voting is everybody’s business, and by registering and voting you count,” Rackleff said. "It's very important that all Florida citizens understand there is a new day in our political culture and our society of fairness and justice."