An estimated 1.4 million former felons in Florida became eligible to register to vote on Tuesday, thanks to the passage of constitutional Amendment 4.
On that first day of implementation, Pensacola resident Tranassa White marked the milestone day by completing her voter registration application - in person - at the Escambia County Supervisor of Elections Office.
Walking in, White admits she’s a bit nervous, “I am.”
“Nothing to be nervous about, okay,” said deputy elections supervisor Sonya Daniel, promising that the application process is easy.
“We haven’t bitten anybody today,” added David Stevens, also a deputy supervisor of elections in Escambia.
For White, Daniel and Stevens, this was a chance encounter, as they simultaneously converged at the door to the downtown Pensacola office.
It is Stevens, who then greets White at the counter to give her a voter registration form and go over the details. He points to the important boxes highlighted in black and reminds that her signature is required.
White chooses to remain standing at the counter to fill out the form. After a few minutes, she’s checked all the boxes and the form is complete.
“Good deal, well I think we’re good,” proclaims Stevens after looking over the application. “Let’s get you a sticker.”
“I registered to vote,” declares White as she thanks individuals in the office who clap and congratulate her.
Then, Daniel offers up what she says is one of the most popular items of the day, an “I registered to vote” sticker.
For a moment, White is overcome with emotion and begins to tear up.
“Ok, hold on, I don’t want to mess up my makeup,” she says. “It’s been a long time.”
White found it hard to find the exact words to express her feelings as she was filling out the voter application form.
“It’s been over a decade since I was able to register to vote, and so it is more emotionally moving for me right now, because now I have a chance to voice who I want in the office, who will be over our legislation, the laws, the tax breaks,” she explained. “I just have a right to say with my voice, on the ballot.”
White made of point of registering on the day of Amendment 4’s effective date, adding that she consciously chose to do so in person.
“I believe numbers matter; numbers are powerful,” she said references demonstration marches as an example. However, she continued, “Even it’s just me alone, I want to be able to tell my other ex-felons that it’s nothing to be afraid of. You know, go down there, register, have your voice heard out in the public because this is gonna [sic] change futures for us.”
White says she was hopeful this day would one day come.
Now age 33, her trouble with the law began when she was 21 years old.
In 2006, she received a sentence of five years in prison for charges including battery, resisting arrest, and drug possession. At the time, she was five months pregnant. Her son is now eleven. White acknowledges that for him adjusting as a family has been a work in progress, but she’s confident he’ll get through it. Meantime, she’s moving ahead with trying to better her life.
“I have an associate’s degree in computer science from Pensacola State College,” she said, adding that she had plans to go register for classes to complete her bachelor’s degree. She’s also working, “Just living, not surviving anymore, but just living.”
It is thanks to Amendment Four, that passed with 65 percent of the vote, that White is now able to fully participate in the electoral process.
Before the November 6 election, she was part of the campaign to drum up support.
“In 2017 I started with ACLU (of Florida) going down to Tallahassee, (working on) criminal reform,” White said of her efforts to get the amendment passed. “I couldn’t vote for Amendment Four, but everyone around me that supported me, my church community, my family voted, and so now this coming up the election, I will be in the polls voting.”
The next election in Escambia County will be in 2020, which happens to be a presidential election year.
“This will be my first election and I am excited. I think I’m going to camp out that night,” she says with joy.
White’s excitement isn’t dampened by questions regarding verification of voter registration applications and calls to suspend implementation until lawmakers can come up with clarifying legislation.
“Not at all,” she declares. “They can sift through that amendment with a fine-toothed comb and we’re still [gonna] vote next year. We’re still gonna vote this year. We have a right to vote.”
Additionally, White is aware of the political power the million plus former felons can have now that they have their voting rights restored.
Moving forward, she plans to remain active with criminal justice reform efforts, working on issues such as recidivism, and education and training to help returning citizens – such as herself - find jobs that pay living wages.