“I am so grateful. I’m overjoyed to get to exercise my right as a citizen.”
Those were the words spoken by Carmen Brown on Friday, a 64-year-old Miami woman who’s a felon and had her voting rights restored. Afterward she hugged John Legend, who was in attendance because he’s been working on criminal justice reform for some time.
Brown was just one of 20 Florida felons who had their voting rights restored that day in a special hearing, which took place in Miami-Dade County.
The move is part of a ballot initiative called Amendment 4 that was passed last year to restore voting rights for all felons in the state, aside from those who’ve been convicted of murder or a sexual crime.
Currently, there’s a law in Florida that keeps felons from voting until they pay off their court fees and fines, but a judge issued a preliminary injunction last month temporarily halting implementation of the controversial law. Friday’s hearing saw these former convicts get their fines and court fees assessed as paid for the purposes of voting.
Before Amendment 4 was passed, a 150-year-old law kept felons from voting, a law that has a disproportionate effect on Black citizens.
“I wanted to be here today because it’s a celebration,” said Legend at the hearing. “It’s so beautiful to see that real people affected by this law change are here. They’re here crying, they’re so happy to vote.”
“So many people take it for granted, this right to vote,” he added. “When you lose it, I think it makes you realize how important it is. … It just shows you how important democracy is, how precious democracy is. … It’s important for all of us to be included in that.”
Reportedly, around 150,000 felons in Florida are able to have their court related fees and fines expunged, so their voting rights could be restored. And after Amendment 4 passed, over 1.2 million felons in the state had their voting rights given back to them.
On Saturday, Legend shared a photo of himself at the hearing and said he was thrilled to be there.
“Today, Miami-Dade County made history by setting up the first court sessions to restore voting rights to people who do not have the financial ability to pay their fees or fines,” he captioned the image. “I am honored to have been on-the-ground in Miami today, working with @flrightsrestore to help register these individuals to vote.”