Jacksonville leaders look to give Floridians a chance to decide the voting rights of 1.6 million residents in next year’s elections.
Jacksonville, FL – Last Friday, 75 pastors, ministers, lay leaders and community organizers filled South Bank’s Lexington Hotel for the Restoring Hope: Faith Breakfast. . The downtown Jacksonville breakfast event, sponsored by the New Florida Majority (NewFM), is launching a month-long initiative to energize the faith community around the effort that seeks to change the state constitution to automatically restore the right to vote to those who have paid their debt to society
Current and former local and state elected officials from Duval County led by Senate Minority Leader-designate, Audrey Gibson, made the case for the faith community leaders to engage and commit their respective congregations to take action and collect petitions in support of the Voter Restoration Amendment. If successful, the measure would be placed on next year’s ballot and allow voters to restore the right to vote to 1.6 Floridians with felony convictions.
“We need you to lead the fight to collect the remaining petitions to restore voting rights to Florida’s ‘returning citizens’ who have satisfied all aspects of their sentence,” said Senator Gibson.
Galvanized by Sen. Gibson’s challenge, the assembled leaders and community partner agreed to take the petitions back to their congregations and community partners. Pastors present, as well as a contingent of those who couldn’t make it to the gathering but signaled their commitment, identified two key dates to hold signature gathering evens — November 19 and December 17.
It was the kind of good news that helped kick off a weekend of actions across Florida in support of the Say Yes to Second Chances campaign organized by Floridians for a Fair Democracy in support of the Florida Restoration Amendment.
ADVOCATES STRESS THE IMPORTANCE OF ACTING NOW
One by one the presenters identified the scope of the challenge, the rationale for engagement and specific steps the faith community can take to assist in the collection of the petitions. State Representative Tracie Davis reminded the audience that while the Florida Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) is considering the issue, there is no guarantee that body will produce anything for voters to consider.
” Our actions now can save lives and change lives,” said Rep. Davis
NewFM Lead Organizer, for North Florida, Devin Coleman, passionately shared what’s at stake for ‘returning citizens’ who do not have their voting rights restored.
“Studies suggests rights restoration is a key factor to curbing the recidivism rate of the ‘returning citizen,’” Coleman added. “The measure for restoring rights should focus on the ‘post-conviction’ status of the individual. Not disproportionately on pre-conviction behavior”.
Jacksonville District 9 City Councilman Garrett Dennis has observed first-hand, the stress and pressure of plea bargaining sessions. It has helped shape his view on the need for an expedited process to restore voting rights to eligible ‘returning citizens’.
“A number of felony convictions are the result of plea bargaining on an offense the accused may not have committed, but lacked the time or resources to fight the charges,” said Dennis. “They simply wanted to go home.”
NewFM’s North Florida Director Moné Holder said that the event was part of the organization’s larger effort to ensure that democracy worked for all communities, especially communities that have been historically shut out of the political process.
“We seek to increase the voting and political power and capacity of marginalized and excluded constituencies.” She added, “the right to vote is a fundamental ingredient to empowerment and expanding participatory democracy.”
Elder Lee Harris, Pastor Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church offered the concluding prayer and quoted from the Book of Habakkuk, rhetorically asking “Why tolerate wrong doing.” Reverend R L Gundy closed the event reminding the guests that the way forward was clear and the task achievable.