#YesOn4: A chance to restore rights

By Faith Wyluda | gargoyle@flagler.edu

In November’s general election, Floridians will have the chance to restore voting rights to over 1.4 million people within the state.

When a person is convicted of a felony in Florida, they lose the right to vote. Amendment 4 on the general election ballot would change that, allowing those who have previously been convicted of a felony – excluding those who have been convicted of murder or sexual offenses –  to have their voting rights restored upon completion of their time served, parole, probation and paying off of restitution.

As legislation stands now, those convicted of felonies must apply for clemency – the constitutionally authorized process that provides the means through which convicted felons may be considered for relief from punishment and seek restoration of their civil rights. To restore their right, they must formally apply to make an appeal before the governor and the cabinet. The governor has the sole power to deny clemency.

I care about Amendment 4 because I care about people. In 2016, I worked as a fellow on the Hillary Clinton campaign, canvassing neighborhoods and helping to register voters.

In registering voters, I walked across campus, up and down St. George Street with a clipboard in hand. Along the way, I stopped in the restaurant I work in and told my coworkers I was registering people to vote.

I clearly remember the look on some of my coworkers’ faces when they apologized and had to explain why they couldn’t vote in Florida. Some who were curious about what I was doing, would quickly walk away. They wanted to get as far away from me and my clipboard as possible.

But why couldn’t they vote? These people have worked just as hard as I have — probably even harder. These people are raising families and contributing to society. They are some of the most genuine, warm and helpful people I have met during my time in St. Augustine. I left my job feeling angry and frustrated, but I realized my feelings paled in comparison to the exclusion they feel everyday.

This summer, I had the chance to channel my frustration into productive work. I served as a Policy and Advocacy Intern for the American Civil Liberties Union. My job was to assist the ACLU’s northeast regional office in their criminal justice reform campaigns, specifically Florida’s Voting Restoration Amendment.

Most of our work was centered around the ACLU’s Amendment 4 campaign. Our goal was to build community partnerships, increase volunteer recruitment and of course, ensure Amendment 4 passes in November’s general election.

I drew many connections during my experiences as an intern to lessons I had learned in the classroom. My education at Flagler College has taught me that civic engagement is a vital part of maintaining our diverse democracy. This is why I’m taking the knowledge I acquired this summer and calling on my classmates, Flagler’s alumni, staff and faculty, to capitalize on this chance to keep our democracy inclusive and representative of our community.

As a liberal arts college, we are the center of new ideas and innovative solutions for our nation. We are entering the workforce, the community and larger society with fresh perspectives and great ambitions to craft a future better than we have been handed.

Our future should not include taxation without representation. Voting yes on Amendment 4 will allow citizens who pay their fair share in taxes to have equal representation. During my internship, I learned about small business owners in Jacksonville, who pay all their appropriate business taxes, but cannot decide who will represent the interests of their children in their  school district.

As emerging consumers, our desires for economic growth can be met by voting yes on Amendment 4. The Washington Economic Group authored a report concluding “The Total Economic Impact of restoring the eligibility to vote for people convicted of a felony in Florida as set forth in the proposed Amendment 4 is estimated at $365 million per year.” The report breakdowns this figure “$223 million, are due to reduced correctional facility and criminal court costs to taxpayers, and $143 million of the impacts, are due to increased income for eligible individuals convicted of a felony.”

Florida is one of three states which disenfranchises felons. Voting yes on Amendment 4 is allowing yourself to be an important part of history. These individuals have served their time and have paid their debt to society. It is time that we do our part to protect the votes of those who are voiceless.

I am a proud Flagler student, soon to be alum, and I’m calling on the community that I have grown to know and love. I’m asking my Flagler family to be the trailblazers you all can be. I am asking you to vote yes on Amendment 4 in November. Let’s make this moment a part of our legacy.

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