Pastor makes petition push for restoration of ex-felons’ right to vote
By Anjelica Bruton
A Tallahassee pastor, who spent 14 years in prison, has taken the lead on a petition drive to restore the voting rights of ex-felons.
Pastor Gregory James’ effort has led to a petition with over 3,000 signatures that was recently presented to the Leon County Supervisor of Elections. James has the backing of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a state-wide advocacy organization that champions the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons among other civil rights issues.
James served just 14 years after being sentenced to life plus 40 years on conspiracy with drugs. Since his release in 2008, the minister has made fighting for the civil rights of ex-felons a priority.
“Coming back facing the challenges that I face I knew that my voice and my work had to be on the behalf of so many others who would not lend theirs to the effort,” James said. “I had to be involved because of the challenges I face. Even though I had great family support, great community support I knew there were many men and women who would return that would not have that.”
James is one of , millions of felons who are returning to society, that do not have the right to vote. Felons can apply for clemency after meeting qualifications to have their rights restored. Applicants can only apply for clemency after a five-year waiting period following their release. Applying doesn’t guarantee favorable,outcome.
James, who has not applied for clemency, said he finds the system frustrating to the point that he sometimes feels trapped.
“We’ve got taxation without representation so that means we find ourselves having to pay taxes but yet we cannot have the right the vote,” James said. “It’s a horrible feeling knowing that I’m released from prison, but yet I’m still having to serve time.”
Desmond Meade, president of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said there have been several unsuccessful attempts in the legislature to address the matter.
“It’s not going to take politicians anymore,” Meade said. “Politicians have been giving more than half of the opportunities to do the right thing yet they lack the moral courage to do so. And that’s why we encourage the citizens in Florida to participate with us to get it done.”
Alan Williams, a state representative who is running for Supervisor of Elections, has expressed strong support for ex-felons having a right to vote.
“I think one of the worst things that can happen is that we allow these individuals to come back home, come back into society and when we bring them back we don’t give them the ability to take full part in
our democracy,” Williams said. “I think that it keeps them in an incarcerated state of mind although they may be free physically, mentally they are not.”
Williams added that it is important that policymakers and lawmakers broaden democracy so that returning citizens are included.
“I think we have to continue as lawmakers and citizens and those that love democracy to advocate for the full restoration of rights individuals, non-violent offenders who have paid their debt to society,” Williams said. “We have to continue to ensure they are participants in our democracy.”