MIAMI – Some 1.4 million people in Florida can begin registering to vote on Tuesday after the U.S. state’s electorate ended a measure banning suffrage for people with felony convictions.
“I want to cry,” said Yraida Guanipa, a 57-year-old former convict who now heads the YG Institute NGO, which helps people with criminal histories reintegrate into society.
Guanipa had just left the office of the Miami-Dade County Elections Department, where she registered to vote early in the morning after nine years of struggling to regain the right.
She was released from prison in 2007 after 12 years behind bars for a drug distribution-related conviction.
On Nov. 6, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to ex-convicts who have already served all terms of their sentence, and did not commit sex crimes or murder.
In Florida, 10 percent of the adult population, including 1 in 5 African-Americans, could not vote prior to the lifting of the restriction, which dated back 150 years and disproportionally affected black and Hispanic communities.
“I didn’t feel like a full citizen, I felt like a second-class citizen,” said Daniel Torna, a financial analyst who also went to register in Miami.
“I pay taxes, I’m active in the community, I work, I go to school, I do everything other people do, I just couldn’t vote,” said Torna, who completed his sentence in 2010 for a drug-linked crime.
“The road back to responsible citizenship has been one of my life’s greatest challenges,” Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which pushed for the amendment to restore voting rights, said in a statement.
“The struggle to achieve access to democracy for myself and more than a million fellow Floridians has been long,” Meade said.