Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams made an appearance in Time’s annual list of most influential people with a tribute to Desmond Meade, the Floridian who led the charge to restore voting rights for former felons in his state.
“The formerly incarcerated—returning citizens—often face a cruel irony in America,” Abrams wrote in her essay. “Having paid their debt to society, too many are banned from the ballot box that could help them dismantle policies that essentially extend their sentences.”
To break the cycle, Meade, who had himself ended up homeless and suicidal and with a felony record, went on to earn a law degree.
And when he realized he couldn’t even vote for his own wife as she ran for state legislature, he presided over the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and fought to pass Amendment 4, “the single largest expansion of voting rights in the U.S. in half a century,” OrlandoWeekly.com reported. The initiative “brought an end to 150 years of a Jim Crow-era law in Florida,” restoring voting rights to more than 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions.
“Amendment 4 needed 60% of the vote to pass,” Abrams wrote. And in November 2018, the legislation received 65%.
Under Florida’s Amendment 4, felons not convicted of sex offenses or murder automatically have their voting rights restored after completing their sentences or going on probation.
Previously, former felons were required to wait at least 5 years after completing their sentences to ask the Florida Clemency Board, made up by the governor and the Cabinet, to restore their rights, according to the Pensacola News Journal.
In 2006, Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist pushed to make it easier for convicted felons to regain voting rights after serving their sentences, but in March 2011, Republican Governor Rick Scott reversed the reforms.
Amendment 4 was placed on the 2018 ballot by a petition of more than 799,000 voters.
Meade was also named Central Floridian of the Year by the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board.
“If we do want our state to be strong and our country to be strong we must commit to empowering the weakest among us,” Meade said at his acceptance speech for the Florida accolade. “The homeless, those who are hungry, those who are silenced, the children, our elderly ... I do consider that an honor.”
Why did Abrams write the essay for Meade? Well, the Georgia Democratic runner-up in the 2018 governor’s race has long fought for stronger voter protections in Georgia.
“From issues with registration to ballot access to the counting of votes, Georgians faced a systemic breakdown of its electoral process,” she said at a U.S. House hearing in February, citing accusations against Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of unfairly using his position as Georgia’s top elections official to win last year’s race.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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