Yraida Guanipa’s sentence did not end when she was released from jail in 2007. For her, that moment began to arrive when she voted early in the US presidential election, after a long and stumbled fight to regain the suffrage of Florida ex-convicts.
The line at one of the early voting centers in Miami was long and punishing by the midday sun. But it was worth it for this 58-year-old who spent the last 11 fighting to vote.
Since 1868, people with a past conviction were banned from voting forever in Florida. This law had been designed by white leaders who were looking for a way to prevent slaves recently freed by the Civil War from being able to vote.
This changed 150 years later, in 2018, when Floridians decided in a referendum to restore the suffrage of those convicted who have already paid their debt to society, unless they had committed rape or homicide.
Thanks to Amendment 4, Guanipa was able to choose between Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.
“When I took the pencil to fill in the circle of my selection,” he says after leaving the voting center, “I felt that it was one more step towards complete freedom, which we still do not have, because the problem is that here when you have a sentence , that sentence has no end “.
“But with this step I am getting back to being that person I was before having a sentence,” he adds.
A Venezuelan-American with almost 40 years in the United States, Guanipa served almost 12 years in prison for a drug-related charge. Upon leaving, he founded the YG Institute, an NGO to help other ex-convicts in their transition to freedom.
Since 2009, he has helped promote Amendment 4, gathering signatures and participating in a federal lawsuit for incarcerated people to regain the right to vote upon release from prison, as is the case in most other states in the country.
“So many years collecting signatures, litigating in court … and this fight has this beautiful ending. Electing the president,” he tells AFP, with a sticker that says “I voted!” on the chest.
But not all ex-convicts in Florida can vote.
– “The first time” –
The “state of the Sun” is crucial in the elections that end on November 3 because your vote – which is unpredictable – has the potential to decide the presidency.
It is not known with certainty how many of the 1.4 million “returned citizens” who regained their voting rights in 2018 registered to vote in Florida.
An analysis of electoral records from the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald and ProPublica put this figure at 31,400, while the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), an NGO that advocates for the rights of ex-convicts, estimates that they were 67,000.
Of those, it is unknown how many can actually vote due to a series of restrictions designed by Republican congressmen and then signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally.
SB 7066 of 2019 diluted the power of Amendment 4 by imposing an obligation on expresses to pay all of their fines, court fees, and restitutions before registering to vote.
The legislators who designed this measure argued that ex-convicts do not serve their sentences until they pay all their monetary obligations.
The law disproportionately impacts African Americans and Hispanics.
The FRRC, aided by former Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg, raised $ 25 million from donors across the country to help ex-convicts pay off their debts, but about 900,000 were left out.
He added that in seven states, including Florida, more than one in seven African Americans cannot vote, twice the national average.
“I am 53 years old and it is the first presidential election I have voted in,” Desmond Meade, also a former con and leader of the FRRC, told reporters as he left his voting center in Orlando wearing a T-shirt that read “Let my people vote. “.