The Young Democrats of Indian River recently hosted a screening of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th”, which explains how the passing of the historic 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution continues to impact our lives today.

As one of the Reconstruction Amendments, ratified in the aftermath Civil War, the 13th Amendment explicitly outlawed slavery and unpaid labor. However, those in power quickly realized that the Reconstruction Amendments contained a loophole – by criminalizing former slaves, they could be treated essentially as they were while they were still considered property.

This history of systemic oppression – slavery, segregated schools, exclusion from jobs, exemptions from labor protections, targeting by law enforcement, voter disenfranchisement, marriage restrictions, and more – all contributed to a culture where black Americans are considered dangerous, criminal, and less-than white Americans.

While “de jure” discrimination (discrimination actually written into the law) is largely impermissible, it is this “de facto” state of affairs which still requires us to take action and resist. How can we do that?

One tangible, achievable way is to work to restore voting rights for convicted felons. Florida is one of three states to permanently take away a person’s right to vote if they are convicted of a felony. The others are Iowa and Kentucky. There is a clemency process to restore a former felon’s voting rights, but it is extremely rare for such a petition to be granted. In the past 6 years, about 2,000 people have had their rights restored. How many have had their right to vote taken away? One and a half million.

When someone has paid their debt to society they should be reintegrated back into that society. Voting is such a core right when it comes to societal participation. When we vote, we tell our representatives what we care about. When we vote, we are engaged in our own democracy. When we vote, we work towards making this Union more perfect. What is more fundamental than that?

Floridians for a Fair Democracy is currently supporting a ballot initiative to restore the voting rights of many felons.* So far, enough signatures have been collected to make it past the first major stage of approval – getting the Florida Supreme Court to approve the language to be presented to the voters. Now, there are a total of 766,200 signatures needed to get the initiative placed on the ballot in November 2018. After that, 60% of voters will need to vote YES to approve this change to the Florida Constitution.

You can help get those signatures. On May 22, there is a Rights Restoration Ballot Initiative Next Step Workshop, and on May 28 we will be doing a Voter’s Rights Restoration Petition Canvas. Check the Democrats of Indian River events calendar for more details.

You can also get started NOW. Print the petition. ( Print several copies. Sign yours, and have your friends, family, and co-workers sign. Then, send the completed forms to this address:

Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Inc.
3000 Gulf to Bay Blvd.
Suite 503
Clearwater, FL 33759

Let’s all work to get this initiative on the ballot, and then get everyone out to vote in November 2018 to vote YES.

*The initiative does not restore the voting rights of anyone convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.

by Meredith Jones

Meredith Jones is an attorney licensed to practice law in Florida since 2012. She is a Managing Member of the Vero Beach law firm of Jones Chesnutt, PLLC. (