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Florida voting rights leader Desmond Meade has civil rights restored

In March, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet approved major changes to the state’s clemency process.
Desmond Meade of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition speaks at a rally in October 2020. Meade headed a successful effort to restore voting rights for many of the state's former felons.
Desmond Meade of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition speaks at a rally in October 2020. Meade headed a successful effort to restore voting rights for many of the state's former felons.
Published Oct. 9
Updated Oct. 9

TALLAHASSEE — The civil rights of Florida voting icon Desmond Meade were restored this week, allowing him to run for office, serve on a jury and take the bar exam.

Meade, one of the architects of the 2018 constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to many Floridians with felony convictions, made the announcement on Saturday in a video posted to Twitter.

“Wow. Wow,” he said. “Another chapter in the journey. Another, I guess, example of perseverance.”

His rights were restored under a new state clemency process approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet in March. The changes automatically restored the right to hold office and serve on a jury for Floridians with felony convictions who have completed their sentence and paid off their court debts.

Meade and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition he leads had advocated for the changes, which included removing a minimum five-year waiting period for those with felony convictions to apply to have their rights restored.

That measure was imposed by ex-Gov. Rick Scott a decade ago, and it dramatically reduced the number of people with felony convictions who had their rights to vote, serve on a jury, run for office or possess a firearm restored.

It also sparked Meade and other groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, to start a push to pass a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions. Nearly two-thirds of voters approved the amendment in 2018, making it one of the greatest expansions of voting rights since the Civil Rights movement.

Meade battled drug addiction in the 1990s, leading to multiple convictions and a prison sentence. In the 2000s, he went to college and graduated from law school, but his record prevented him from becoming a lawyer.

He asked for a pardon last year, but DeSantis rejected it because Meade’s offenses had led to a dishonorable discharge from the Army in the early 1990s. Meade was caught stealing liquor and electronics on base to support his drug habit and sentenced to three years in a military brig, according to a New York Times profile.

In the video, Meade acknowledged that restoring his civil rights was “not a pardon.”

“But it’s definitely a step,” he said. “The restoration of my civil rights definitely helped remove some hurdles for me.”

“I could apply for the Florida Bar now. I can get a house. I could run for office if I wanted to run for office.

“This is good. It’s good.”