Amendment 4 leader not granted pardon but can still vote; announces aid to help restore other voters

Desmond Meade announces developments Wednesday on Twitter. Credit: @DesmondMeade

Desmond Meade, who launched Florida’s felon voting-rights restoration movement, did not walk away from Wednesday’s clemency hearing with a pardon for past crimes, but he will still be voting this fall, he said. And he will help other ex-felons become eligible to vote, too.

“I’m OK because I can still vote. I am a registered voter, and I will be voting in this election and in many elections to come,” Meade said live on Twitter after the Florida clemency board did not grant his petition for a pardon but “took it under advisement” for future action.

Meade’s Twitter feed said: “Today I appeared before the Fl gov for a pardon .. didn’t leave with one.”

Because Florida voters approved Amendment 4 in 2018 restoring voting rights to non-violent felons after they complete their sentences, Meade is eligible and registered to vote.

While Amendment 4 restores voting rights, clemency board rules say a pardon restores all civil rights including the right to serve on a jury, hold public office, and possess a firearm.

“I can still vote because of Amendment 4,” Meade said. “We knew Florida’s clemency system was broken.”

While Meade can vote, an estimated 85,000 other ex-felons – Meade calls them “returning citizens” – still cannot because of a 2019 Florida law requiring they first pay any debts they may owe in connection with the crimes for which they served their sentences. Court battles over that law ensued, with critics
calling it an unconstitutional poll tax, but Gov. Ron DeSantis’ team successfully fought to uphold the law.

Meade said in the Twitter announcement he will donate $75,000 to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition fund to help pay off fines and fees standing in the way of ex-felons regaining their voting rights.

He said the money was granted to him personally by a source he did not name. He urged viewers to donate to the fund as well so that ex-felons who could vote if not for unpaid debts related to their crimes will be able to pay off those debts and vote on Nov 3.

Florida’s clemency board – Gov. DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Nikki Fried – on Wednesday heard many other petitions for pardons, including Meade’s, and restoration of rights to possess firearms.

It deferred but did not deny Meade’s petition, according to the governor’s spokesman, Fred Piccolo. “It was taken under advisement. … Saying the Gov denied his application is just false,” Piccolo said on Twitter.

Fried has long condemned the slow pace of clemency during DeSantis’ administration, and she condemned the outcome for Meade on Wednesday.

“Justice wasn’t approved for Desmond Meade, a Floridian whose redemption should be an example to us all,” Fried said in a statement for the press. “It’s an absolute mockery that in nearly two years under Governor DeSantis, only 30 Floridians have earned back their rights, compared to 234,000 under his three predecessors.”

The clemency board has met only twice this year – on Wednesday and back in January.

More condemnation broke out on social media platforms.

[email protected] should be ashamed of himself,” said Orange County Democratic state Rep. Carlos Smith, also via Twitter.

Even former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg piped up, tweeting: “The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right. Nobody is fighting for that right harder than @FLRightsRestore &  @desmondmeade. Their work is critical to defending a more inclusive democracy.”

Florida Phoenix deputy editor Michael Moline contributed to this report.