Florida Rights Restoration Coalition tours Big Bend area preparing former felons to vote

Posted at 5:24 PM, Oct 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-14 17:24:30-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The Florida Rights Restoration is rolling through Big Bend counties helping ex-convicts prepare for voting.

The bus tour brought education rights into Tallahassee and Gadsden County, from letting people know how they can vote to and helping them pay off their fines and fees.

"It felt like the Fourth of July and my birthday all wrapped into one," said Neil Volz, the deputy director FRRC.

Volz said he never thought the day would come to cast a ballot after a felony conviction.

"There was a lot of time where I thought I would never be able to vote again," said Volz. "To be able to walk into the voting booth and feel like a full citizen, a full participant in my community; that was a day of a lot tears, a lot of hugging."

That's all changed and now he's working with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to bring that same joy to others.

The FRRC's bus tour made stops in Leon and Gadsden County helping other ex-convicts work towards voter restoration.

"We get questions about when to show up, where's my polling location, what's that process," Volz said.

The biggest roadblock for many is paying off outstanding fees and fines before getting that right back.

The FRRC even has a department to help people pay those fees off.

"It's been really amazing to see people from all over the state, all over the country, to rally behind returning citizens still facing barriers to voting and helping to address that by tearing those barriers down by paying peoples fines and fees," said Volz.

It is a will to help that's spreading across the community.

Eric McKinnon recently restored his right to vote and his first mission is returning the favor to others.

"Naturally we do a lot of different things to let people know we're here," said McKinnon. "I've had people come asking how to get it done and what's next."

McKinnon also encourages others to make their voices heard showing them how much the power of vote affects their lives.

"Being a business owner and doing different things in the community, you kind of want to have an input in the things that's being decided for us," McKinnon said. There is an application process on the FRRC website where people can apply and a team that works exclusively to pinpoint how much is owed and how to pay it off. The group is also looking for more attorneys across the state to offer pro bono help.

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