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Confetti, Tears & Hugs As Former Felons Register To Vote

Desmond Meade (r) shows off his voter registration slip outside the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office. Photo: Emily Lang, WMFE
Desmond Meade shows off his voter registration slip.

Rainbow confetti blasters brought a New Year vibe to the brown-accented Orange County Supervisor of Elections office Tuesday morning.

About 1.5 million disenfranchised Floridians regained the right to vote as Amendment 4 went into effect.

“Good start and I didn’t even have coffee today," said administrator Margaret Ann Heflin as she registered the first former felon to walk into the office at 8 am.

Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition drove to the office reminiscing with his family about the five-year long grassroots campaign.

“You know on the drive over here thinking about how in the civil rights era dads used to go take their family to go vote with them and me realizing that I had never had the opportunity to take my family to go vote," said Meade.

The amendment was supported by over 64 percent of Florida voters, and changes language in the constitution dating back to the Jim Crow era. Voting rights advocates say the amendment will have the biggest impact on Florida’s Black and Latinx communities. According to the Sentencing Project, Black men are disproportionately incarcerated in Florida compared to white men.

Advocates are concerned about voter suppression.  The Brennan Center for Justice found that Florida, Georgia and North Carolina were purging voters at high rates. Lack of extended voting days and times, and voter ID laws are also a cause for concern.

“Registering is the easy part," said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles as he watched the day unfold.

As for the hard part? "Getting out to go vote."

But the mood of newly enrolled voters was not dampened.  FRRC volunteer and former felon Gayle Wilcox listened to "church music" as she drove her best friend to the supervisor of elections office to register to vote.

"I’m a Christian, so we listen to church music and everything," said Wilcox.

Afterwards, Wilcox met Meade at the side of the building where they took photos and hugged.