Written by: Lee Hoffman of Plant City, Florida
When Florida passed Amendment 4 in November, I was crying. The ballot initiative restored voting rights to as many as 1.4 million people like me who have completed their sentence.
Voting is about changing lives and it’s a matter of pride. Being behind bars, you lose everything, but most importantly your freedom. The restoration of voting rights gives someone a chance to restore their voice once they’ve done their time. Freedom without a voice makes one feel like they still don’t count as a person, so I was looking forward to registering to vote. It was a priority for me; I didn’t want to feel any longer like I was an inmate with a number. Instead, I’d replace that number with a button on my shirt that said, “I voted”.
I often tell people that I’ve done one tour in the military and three tours in prison. I joined the military at age 18. That’s the same age Americans are granted the right to vote. During my service, I worked in the boiler room of a ship based in Charleston, South Carolina, and I’ve had many life experiences that have shaped my desire to participate in the democratic process through voting. Mainly, I want to vote in elections so I can have a say in the laws affecting my ability to provide for my family.
When Florida passed SB 7066 this summer – a modern-day poll tax that ties my right to vote to my ability to pay off fines and fees – I felt like I had a rug ripped from under my feet. Right now, the money I owe two Florida counties in fines and fees feels insurmountable with my current income. I completed my sentence and have stayed out of trouble since 2007. I’ve done a lot since then.
I became Director of Ministries for the largest faith-based drug and alcohol recovery program in the state of Florida. That experience led me to open my own program in 2012, that way I could work directly with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help vets set up leases and have places to hang their heads.
But just like I did before the passage of Amendment 4, Florida politicians made me feel like I didn’t matter. They passed SB 7066 out of fear. They are afraid of having hundreds of thousands of new voters.
I’m 60 years old and I’ve never had the ability to vote. It’s time for me to feel like I belong. That’s why today I’m joining Campaign Legal Center’s lawsuit to speak out against Florida’s modern day poll tax. It’s more powerful to be a voice for hundreds of thousands of Floridians than it is to be a voice of one.