Felon voting advocate Desmond Meade denied pardon that would let him take Florida Bar exam

MIAMI – Desmond Meade, one of the leaders of the statewide campaign to restore former felons’ voting rights, pleaded and begged as he sought a full pardon Wednesday, but to no avail.

“It was something problematic when you have four politicians deciding whether or not your average citizen is able to move on with their lives,” Meade said. “Hearing the governor actually say that this hearing is about what you’ve done since.”

While he is eligible to vote, Meade left without the pardon he wanted so he could take the Florida Bar exam.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and his cabinet, Florida’s clemency board, instead took it “under advisement” for a future date.

“Refusing to immediately grant me a pardon, I think that is so indicative of why we started Amendment 4 in the first place,” Meade said.

Florida’s Amendment 4, passed on the ballot in November 2018, restored voting rights of convicted felons after they complete all terms of their sentence, which includes parole or probation.

Meade, 53, was a force behind that amendment, which makes him now a registered voter. He was the man who got superstar John Legend to a Miami courtroom for the program that helps it happen.

And he was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2019.

Meade, whose criminal history includes drug charges and a domestic violence charge, is now an advocate for justice and redemption. He’s a law school graduate some 15 years past paid up for the crime he wants to be pardoned.

A pardon is the Florida governor’s decision, a process criticized as too subjective and arbitrary.

About 30 former felons have had their rights restored so far under DeSantis. There were 3,000 in Rick Scott’s two terms as governor, 155,000 when Charlie Crist automated the process, and before that, 76,000 under Jeb Bush.

Meade’s next opportunity to go before the clemency board is at their next meeting Dec. 9.

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