At least 1.4 million people have regained the right to vote in Florida, following the passage of Amendment 4, a statewide initiative to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences, excluding people convicted of murder or sex offenses. The amendment passed overwhelmingly, with 64.5 percent of the vote. It needed 60 percent to pass. The win will permanently alter politics in a state that elected Republican Ron DeSantis as Florida governor by just over 55,000 votes, according to the latest numbers. DeSantis defeated Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who was vying to be the first African-American governor in Florida’s history. We speak with Desmond Meade, who spearheaded the fight for Amendment 4. Desmond Meade is the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. He’s also chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy. He is one of some 1.4 million people who has just regained his right to vote.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to an historic win in Florida, where at least 1.4 million people have regained the right to vote, following the passage of Amendment 4, a statewide initiative to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences, excluding people convicted of murder or sex offenses. The amendment passed overwhelmingly with 64.5 percent of the vote. It needed 60 percent to pass. At a state level, it was the largest enfranchisement of Americans since women got the right to vote a [century] ago. The win will permanently alter politics in a state that elected Republican Ron DeSantis as Florida governor by just over 55,000 votes, according to the latest numbers. DeSantis defeated Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who was vying to be the first African-American governor in Florida’s history.
AMY GOODMAN: One in five African Americans in Florida and more than 10 percent of Florida’s adult population were ineligible to vote in Florida’s 2018 election, that happened yesterday, because of a criminal record.
Well, for more, we go to Orlando, Florida, where we’re joined by Desmond Meade, who’s been fighting for this victory for years. He’s president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, also chairman of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, an ex-offender who was previously homeless. He’s one of 1.4 million people who has just regained the right to vote.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Desmond. Can you talk about your reaction? You had to get 60 percent of the vote. You got well over that number. How are you feeling?
DESMOND MEADE: Amy, I am—first of all, let me thank you for having me on this morning. I know the last time we talked, we had mentioned about that my first foray into television or on internet was through you many years ago in Tallahassee. And we did a show again about a week or two ago in Florida. And here we are this morning on the eve of a very historic win. So, I at least want to thank you for being with me along this journey from the very beginning.
But listen, I am tired. But I am excited, because, you know, I think we had something special happen last night. And I think a lot of folks are not really grasping it right now, but eventually they will really understand that what we’ve seen in Florida was love prevailing. Just that simple. Love prevailed. We had over 5 million votes for Amendment 4. And those were votes of love, people voting for their loved ones and friends who made mistakes and paid their debt and wanted to move on with their lives. And so, we’re very excited, and we think that this victory can serve as a bright spot for this country and can serve as a launching pad for how we conduct business and how we can move issues along the lines of humanity and transcend above the partisan politics, transcend above the racial anxieties.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Desmond, what are the prospects of what happened in Florida spreading to other states? And also, how do you think that this will change the political landscape in Florida, especially coming up now, just a couple of years, for the presidential race?
DESMOND MEADE: Well, let’s talk about the prospects. You know, here we have a campaign that was successful last night that dealt with voting, dealt with felons, and it was in the state of Florida. Right? Those three things do not mix. But throughout the entire campaign, there was a lot of amazing things that happened. One of the things that I just realized maybe a week or two ago was that not one law enforcement officer spoke out against this, not one in the entire state of Florida. And we had the Christian Coalition. We had the Koch brothers. We had Florida TaxWatch. We had the ACLU. We had a broad spectrum of support.
And on Souls to the Polls, let me tell you something amazing that happened. Working with Faith in Florida, we had over 827 congregations of faith that participated in the elections. And it wasn’t just African-American churches. It was evangelical churches. It was Latino churches. It was Jewish synagogues. It was a Muslim mosque. They all participated. When have we seen people come together from all walks of life, from all religions, come together around an issue as volatile as the one that we just successfully passed? We don’t see that happening. And so, I really do believe that our victory warrants closer attention, a closer inspection, because how we were successful can be how others are successful in other states across this country.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is so significant. And you were doing polling. When I was down in Florida talking to you just a few weeks ago, you said if there were negative ads against you, you might have trouble. But no one waged a campaign against this. Desmond Meade, can you talk about your designation of people who—and it’s not just people who have come out of jail, because you might be convicted of a felony and never serve time in prison. And this would apply to you, too. Universally, you couldn’t vote for the rest of your life if you were convicted of a felony.
DESMOND MEADE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You call yourself a returning citizen.
DESMOND MEADE: You know, we might have to change that name, because after last night, we have returned: 1.4 million American citizens can now experience what it feels like to be a full citizen. Before that, we were just second-class citizens, in spite of having paid our debt to society. But after tonight, you know, I can honestly say that I feel like I’ve returned. I can now vote for my wife, should she decide to run for office. And I hope you help convince her to do that, Amy, because she would be an amazing, amazing candidate. But I can now vote. I can now step in that booth. I can now have my voice heard.
And I’ll share something with you. Last night when we were celebrating, Mr. Shackelford—it was a gentleman that was in the documentary with me who I took to go vote in 2016, and they turned him away. He was in his seventies, and they turned him away. And we felt that when they denied him the ability to vote because of a charge of driving with a suspended license that happened in 1993, and he was turned away in 2016—and I remember crying, because I believed that that man was not going to be able to live or he was going to die before he’d get to vote again. And it really strengthened my resolve to really just push forward with this amendment. Well, last night, he came to our watch party, and he was there in his beautiful blue suit, and we hugged. And he said to me, “I now can vote. Thank you so much. I know that I will vote before I die.” And that is what this is all about: American citizens having that opportunity to be citizens again. I’m excited about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, if this were in effect for yesterday’s midterm election, what effect do you think it would have had on the governor’s race in Florida? We’re talking about 1.4 million Floridians getting the right to vote. Bush won in 2000 with, what, 500 votes. President Trump won with something like 116,000 votes. You’re talking 1.4 million Floridians—
DESMOND MEADE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —now will have their right to vote restored.
DESMOND MEADE: That’s a great question. And you know how I answer that, Amy? You know, like I told people in the past, when I was arrested by the police, they didn’t ask me if I was Democrat or Republican. And when I appeared before the judge, he didn’t ask me that, either. And so, it’s pretty hard to say. There are studies on both sides that would say it would break either way.
But this is what I do say: If 1.4 million returned citizens were able to vote yesterday, they would vote for the candidate that spoke to their issues. One of the things that we have really stressed in Florida is that we don’t lean left, we don’t lean right, we lean straight forward into the issues that impact people that have been impacted by the criminal justice system, people with felony convictions. And so, if you were to ask me how folks would have voted, the only thing I would have told—they could tell you is that they would have voted for the person that spoke more precisely and clearly to the issues that impact them as a returning citizen.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Desmond Meade, we have to leave it there, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. I hope we can come down and cover you in 2020 when you vote, chairman of Floridians for a Fair Democracy. He spearheaded Amendment 4, which has re-enfranchised 1.4 million Floridians.