What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Is COVID-19 delaying the fight for voting rights in Florida?

In Florida, people with felony records are fighting to regain their voting rights. But the coronavirus has made that struggle more difficult. NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano spoke to Desmond Meade of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition about what effect the virus has had on their chances of voting in November elections

Read the Full Transcript

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Tonight we continue our coverage of Amendment 4 in Florida, which in 2018 restored the right to vote to people with felony convictions, or "returning citizens" as they prefer to be called.

    In 2019, Florida passed a new law saying that former felons cannot vote until they pay off all fines and fees related to their convictions. Voting rights advocates are suing over that law.

    For now, those with felony records can still try to have their debts waived through the court system, but the coronavirus outbreak has complicated that process.

    Desmond Meade is the head of the Florida rights restoration coalition and is, himself, a returning citizen. NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano recently spoke with him.

    This segment is part of our ongoing series: Chasing The Dream.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the process by which returning citizens can regain their voting rights?

  • Desmond Meade:

    The stay at home order that was issued by the governor had a great impact on our court system and with our clerk of courts, as well as with our judges. Immediately after the stay at home order was issued, we had courts that was shutting down and that—they were only open for, like, essential cases and eventually they moved more towards video hearing. And so the hearings that we needed in order to get a person's sentence modified, in order to remove their fines and fees, they were low priority. So we didn't see any cases where people were able to utilize the court to be able to vote again.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    What's the latest on the legal battle over Florida's law on paying off fines and court fees? Has the case been able to proceed despite the Corona virus pandemic?

  • Desmond Meade:

    Thankfully, yes, it did. The—as a matter of fact, as of last week, the case has concluded. And right now, everything is in a holding pattern, waiting on a judge to issue his final decision. The trial judge made a determination to certify this case as a class action. And that's very significant because prior to that certification, any rulings that was coming out of the courts only really apply to the 16, 17 plaintiffs that was named in the case and they did not apply broadly. But now with class action status, that means that the ruling that's going to be coming out of this trial of this court is going to have an impact on every one of the 1.4 million.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    How else is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting returning citizens on the outside?

  • Desmond Meade:

    We have a lot of folks who are—who are business owners. Some of our leaders own businesses, and they were forced to have to shut down their businesses. And while there may have been relief through small business loans and various relief acts, they were denied that opportunity to even apply for some type of relief from the federal government because they had a previous felony conviction. And then in other cases, when we have returning citizens that are out there working—it's hard enough just to get a job when you have a conviction on your record, but when you do get it, a lot of times it's returning citizens that's the first to be laid off when the hard times hit a small business.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    How do you see the COVID-19 crisis affecting voter turnout among returning citizens this fall?

  • Desmond Meade:

    There's a lot of concern about people actually going to the polls and putting themselves at risk. But the problem that we have here is that, you know, while we're encouraging folks to engage in vote-by-mail, you know, the reality is that people like me who have fought long and hard to get their rights restored is really looking forward to actually going into a voting location and actually casting that ballot in person. That's an experience that I've been personally longing for for over 20 years. And so there is a struggle there. There are going to be a lot of folks that probably will come out to vote. But I think that COVID-19, may prevent people from voting and they probably won't even vote by mail.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Desmond Meade from the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Desmond Meade:

    Thank you for having me.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest