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Tallahassee, Quincy Residents Rally To Encourage Felons To Vote

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Robbie Gaffney
/
WFSU-FM
Olivia Maxie and her children wave signs by the roadside. They're drawing attention to a rally across the street being held at the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church. The event is being organized by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Maxie says she wants her children to learn about amendment four and the cause to restore felon voting rights.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition rallied in Tallahassee and Quincy today to encourage felons to vote.

Outside the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition members set up big white tents, unfolded tables, and got a generator running. They're preparing for a rally.

"Right now, we're having what we call a rally, and we're going to be marching to the library so they can go and vote," the coalition's Mark Cooper says.

The goal is to encourage former felons to drop off their absentee ballots. The coalition is also working on getting more returning citizens registered so that they can vote next time. James Allen Ollins is one of them. He's also leading a similar rally in Quincy.

"I served 27 years in the Florida Department of Corrections. I had two natural life sentences and 50 mandatory, and my rights have not been restored. And even though I won't be able to join my fellows in arms to vote today, I'm supporting it because I still have a voice even though I might not have a vote," Ollins says.

James Allen Ollins smiles at the camera. He wears a red shirt that reads, "Let My People Vote. FRRC." Behind him is a rural neighborhood.
Robbie Gaffney
James Allen Ollins is heading off the rally and march for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition in Quincy, FL. Ollins says he believes in the coalition's cause to end the voter disenfranchisement of returning citizens. Even though he can't vote in this 2020 general election, he says the rally is monumental and returning citizens will not be silenced.

Both events focus on getting returning citizens to vote.

"Now, this amendment four enabled us to really step out and really be heard. And that's one thing we are not—we are not heard. And our voice should be heard because we are citizens. We paid our debt, and we just want the right to do what every American has the right to do, and that's vote," Ollins says.

Olivia Maxie also works with the coalition. She's been trying to get the word out that felons can vote.

"Before we give them the information a lot of returning citizens that I come in contact with—they don't even know that they have options," Maxie says.

Maxie says some aren't aware her group can help cover the fines and fees felons must pay to restore their voting rights.

"And then you have some returning citizens that's already paid their debt—doesn't even have fines and fees and still don't know that they have their rights restored to vote," Maxie says.

Olivia Maxie looks at the camera. She's wearing a face mask with a man holding his hands up over his mouth. His hands are bound by the American Flag. Below him are the words, "Let My People Vote." Maxie has
Robbie Gaffney
Olivia Maxie says her work with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is personal. She has family and friends who are returning citizens. After telling them they can have their voting rights restored, Maxie says they get excited.

Michael Brown is attending the day's event. He's had his rights restored and wants his vote to help fight for equality for everyone.

"I want everything to be fair around the board. Not just for white, not just black, everybody. Just want everybody to have a fair chance," Brown says.

Brown says having a fair chance isn't something everyone has.

"One of the most hurtful things is going to apply for a job knowing you mean well, and you get turned down for the job because you're a felon. It's hard to feed your family. It's like what do you do? Will you go back to doing the old things that you used to do? You just have to persevere and keep going," Brown says.

His message to other returning citizens:

"Keep pushing. Don't give up—register to vote. Do everything you can to get your rights back to vote. Don't give up," Brown says.