Former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum laid out a vision of “registering and engaging” one million new voters across Florida over the next few years at an event in Miami Gardens on Wednesday.
The move puts Gillum in the same brass as Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic Gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who also narrowly lost her bid for higher office in 2018, and who has been involved in voter registration efforts.
Gillum pointed to the 2020 presidential race as a turning point for the country, and said the outcome of Florida can almost singlehandedly defeat President Trump and install a Democrat in the White House.
“We are uniquely situated to issue that eviction notice, y'all,” he said. "It is consequential not only for the state of Florida, but of the United States of America, that Florida deliver like we have never delivered before."
The move was first reported by Politico earlier Wednesday, though Gillum’s staff declined to comment or corroborate that reporting. A group that works closely with Gillum, Bring It Home Florida, registered with the state last week as an entity that handles third-party voter registrations.
“I’m smart enough to know that everyone who registers doesn’t necessarily vote,” said Gillum. “But I’m smart enough to know that you want as many marbles on the table [that you can have], so if a few of them fall off, it doesn’t cost you the election.”
Partners in Gillum's campaign will include the Florida Democratic Party, the Dream Defenders, the Florida Immigrant Rights Coalition and the American Way.
Rumors swelled for months that Gillum might run a bid to the presidency in 2020 after losing to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by less than half a percentage point. But Gillum painted his new registration effort as a continuation and a natural offshoot of his loss, framing the campaign in historic terms.
“What would have happened if Dr. [Martin Luther] King had gotten turned around when those pastors said ‘get out of here you rebel rouser?’ … What if Rosa Parks decided she was gonna get up and head to the back of the bus?” he said. “They persisted. They pushed through, in spite of their set backs, in spite of their losses, in spite of the winding road to progress — they stuck to it. So ya’ll, that is what we have to do."
In his speech, Gillum emphasized his commitment to allowing people with felony records to register to vote, at a time when advocates see the promise of a popular statewide amendment at risk. The same day that Gillum lost his gubernatorial bid, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which would “automatically” grant the right to vote for people with felony convictions “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.”
The Criminal Justice Committee in Florida’s House of Representatives this week moved forward legislation that would force potential voters to complete all “financial obligations” related to their felony charges before being eligible to vote, including fines related to felony convictions.
As WLRN has previously reported, over a billion dollars in fines related to felony convictions have been issued across the state in the past five years alone. Only 19% of those fines have been paid, meaning Floridians could have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars before regaining the right to vote. The fines that are collected are used to fund the state’s court system.
"I want us to send an unapologetic message to the legislature to get their hands off of Amendment 4. It is the law of the land,” he said. "We decided overwhelmingly that Florida is going to be a state of second chances. We decided overwhelmingly that we believe people should not be judged forever because of their worst day."
In the committee meeting this week, chairman Republican Rep. James Grant defended the move. He cited testimony that was given before the Florida Supreme Court by advocates before Amendment 4 was approved to make it onto the statewide ballot. “All we’re doing is following the testimony that was presented before the Florida Supreme Court explicitly acknowledging that fines and court costs are part of a sentence,” he said. “All we’re doing is following statute.”
The national civil rights non-profit advocacy group Equal Justice Under Law suggested it might file a lawsuit if the bill is ultimately passed.
“All options are on the table, including constitutional litigation,” said Phil Telfeyan, the executive director. “Denying an individual the right to vote due to poverty is a blatant form of discrimination, and the people of Florida deserve better.”
Gillum's speech laid out few specifics of how the campaign will connect with or register a million new voters. Gillum suggested it is a collective effort, one that takes place “block by block,” and city by city, and one that will build on the volunteer infrastructure that his campaign developed.
“This is not the sexy work of democracy,” he said. “This is the hard work."