Florida Rights Restoration Coalition tour reaches Fort Myers to help felons register to vote

The Free the Vote tour bus will be in Southwest Florida on Saturday to help felons restore their rights to vote.

The bus is part of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and has been touring the state since the beginning of April to help people convicted of certain felonies start the process to be able to vote once again.

It all stems from 2018, when voters approved a referendum granting the right to vote for felons.

After several legal battles, felons can fully regain their voting rights after paying all fines and restitution.

On Saturday, the Free the Vote tour bus will be at Mount Olive AME Church at 2754 Orange St, Fort Myers. The bus will be at the church from noon until 3 p.m.

After 15 years, returning citizen and Florida Rights Restoration Coalition deputy Director Neil Volz got his voting rights just in time for the 2020 elections.

Volz now wants other felons to have a chance to celebrate the same accomplishments.

“Get your voice back, to be able to be heard in your community and have a vote. But we also know that if our goal is to be treated like anyone else in the community, which our goal is there’s still barriers,” Volz said, adding that, “All those things that help people prosper and flourish and we’re a hopeful group. We believe in people’s future and communities future.”

About one in every three Americans has a criminal record that keeps them from getting a job, having a place to live or even voting.

President Joe Biden declared the month of April as Second Chance Month. The bus tour hopes to remind people they can continue taking steps in the right direction.

In Southwest Florida, there are over 6,000 felons and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition hopes to reach them all.

Dunbar Outreach Board member Jacquelyn McMiller and Volz both agree that restoring felons’ rights helps them get jobs they need to support themselves versus them resorting to committing another crime to survive.

“The quicker people are to reintegrate into the community, the less likely they are to reoffend, which means there’s going to be safer communities for everyone,” Volz said. “So this isn’t really just a returning citizens issue for people who are impacted by the criminal justice system. This is an issue for the entire community.”

McMiller wants the area’s returning citizens to know the community is working together to remind them there is hope in the next chapter of their lives.

“There’s so many barriers out there that, of course, you lose hope,” McMiller said. “But there is hope. Hope is nothing but having opportunity to persist and regain.”

The event is free.

Reporter:Andrea Guerrero
Writer:Melissa Montoya
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