Florida Resident Shares What It Means To Have His Voting Rights Restored
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Florida is about to get a whole lot of new eligible voters. In Tuesday's election, Floridians approved a constitutional amendment that restores voting rights to about 1 1/2 million people with felony convictions. These are people who have completed their sentences and any probation. And the amendment does exclude people convicted of murder or felony sex offenses.
One of the new eligible voters is a man named Greg James. He's a pastor at Life Church International Center in Tallahassee. He was convicted on felony drug charges in 1996 and was released from prison in 2008. Greg James joins us now from WFSU in Tallahassee. Welcome.
GREG JAMES: Well, thank you so much for having me.
CHANG: When you found out on Tuesday night that Florida had restored your right to vote, what went through your mind?
JAMES: I tell you. I experienced mixed emotions.
JAMES: There was joy beyond measure. But yet and still, there was questions in my mind of what kind of resistance would we face.
CHANG: You mean even after having won your right to vote back again.
JAMES: Absolutely because when we look at our nation as a whole, we still face challenges being made. So there was the great excitement of it. But then I'm saying to myself, can anything come up to hinder this long journey that we've been on?
CHANG: When was the last time you voted?
JAMES: I would say it has to have been well over 25, maybe 30 years.
JAMES: And I can't remember who - the last person I voted for.
CHANG: What was that like - watching election after election pass by, looking at all these other people who could go to polling places but you couldn't? What does it feel like to stand on the sidelines like that?
JAMES: Well, it really didn't dawn on me the value of the vote until my life was hidden behind prison bars. I was in a place where my voice couldn't be heard. I was told when to sit, when to stand, when to walk, when to run. I was told...
JAMES: ...What to do. So being in that place, it created a desire for me if ever released to engaged in the process to educate as many as I can and to be an advocate for those who are left behind.
CHANG: So in - you know, in this past election, we heard Ron DeSantis, the Republican - he argued against making this rule change. He says that it's wrong to automatically restore voting rights to people who have committed serious crimes and that you should have to prove you're getting back with the law. Those are his words. What do you say?
JAMES: Well, I heard that. But if a person has paid their debt, then why would they have to prove themself? I mean, the fact that I've served time, the fact that I paid my restitution, the fact that I've been a law-abiding citizen - that's proof within itself. What more proof are you looking for?
CHANG: Have you re-registered to vote yet?
JAMES: Well, we must wait until January 8. And it's during that time that the process will start. So I'm excited about it. There are people in our city now who are flooding the supervisor of election office, and they're having to be told that, hey, January 8.
JAMES: I mean...
CHANG: Just got to wait a little bit more.
JAMES: You know, I'm going to make sure that we continue to educate as we have already been doing 'cause this is just the beginning to freedom in its fullest. There's one thing to know that you have paid your debt. There's another thing to get the title to the vehicle. It gives you that sense of, wow, it's mine finally.
CHANG: Greg James is a pastor at Life Church International Center. He will soon be an eligible voter thanks to Florida's Amendment 4. Thank you so much for joining us.
JAMES: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.