by John Lantigua
In cities around Florida, people who benefited from the passage of Amendment 4 in the November elections are finding envelopes in their mailboxes bearing their new voter identification cards.
Alan Rhyelle, 72, of Sarasota County, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart awardee, opened his envelope the other day. He lost his ability to vote over 10 years ago after a marijuana conviction and had wanted very badly to vote many times since then. How did seeing his voter ID make him feel?
“It was like I was reborn as a citizen,” he said. “I at least have a voice now. I’m not in a corner collecting dust.”
Clarence Office Jr. of Miami-Dade County had not been able to vote since 2008. A U.S. Army veteran, he now works for the Veterans Administration in Miami, counseling other veterans who have gotten in trouble with the law.
“After all these years, I’m a complete citizen now,” he said, after texting a photo of his voter ID to the ACLU of Florida. “And, yes, I’m going to vote in the very first election I can and every chance I get.”
Amendment 4 gives all persons convicted of a felony in Florida, who have finished their sentences and probation, the ability to vote, except those convicted of homicide and sexual felonies. January 8 was the first day those individuals could register, and the cards are just starting to reach them.
Alphonso Davis, 63, of Sarasota County, has not been able to vote for 40 years.
“Getting this card makes me feel so good,” he said.
Davis, who has worked many years in community development and drug abuse treatment, said he would begin another organizing effort now.
“I’m looking to get a lot of people who just got their vote back and organize them so that together we elect candidates that support our issues,” he said. “Sticking together our votes can really count.”
Up in Jacksonville and Duval County, Keith Ivey, 46, has not yet received his registration card, but he went to an online database for the local supervisor of elections and found himself listed as, “Registered.” Ivey, who spent time in prison for larceny, has never voted.
“It’s awesome,” he said, “but I’m treating the elation with baby steps. We have local elections in March and when I’m allowed to vote in that election, I’ll know it’s true.”
As for Sidney Bacon, 67, of Sarasota, an Air Force veteran who hasn’t voted in 22 years, he is forging ahead.
“This is excellent,” he said holding his card. ”I’m going to start right now to get prepared. When the next chance to vote comes you know I’m going to be ready.”
John Lantigua is an Investigative Writer, Communications with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, aclufl.org.
For More Florida News: ELSEMANARIOFLORIDA.COM
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