TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Dino DeBernardinis says he’s waited a lifetime for this moment.
For this dad and Army veteran, this day means the world to him.
He can vote.
“This is a fantastic day,” DeBernardinis told WFLA. “It’s extremely exciting. It’s an emotional experience. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for three decades.”
Three decades of waiting, to be exact.
DeBernardinis was convicted of burglary years ago and spent less than a year behind bars in Pinellas County. He says it changed him for the better.
He admits it inspired him to be a better person and motivated him to live on the straight and narrow. He says what he did while running with the wrong crowd cost him a lifetime of elections.
“It was burglary,” he said. “People I was hanging out with were breaking into cars. And, I wasn’t doing the breaking into the cars, but I was there, that’s the law. That’s the way that it works.”
DeBernardinis was one of more than a million convicted felons across the state now eligible to vote after Floridians passed Amendment 4 back in November.
John Brooks is another new voter, so thrilled about today that it brought tears to his eyes.
“I feel great. Got a lot of energy, I feel like, like they say, born again. Born over again, like when I met Christ, I feel pumped up,” he told WFLA.
He too has waited a lifetime to cast a ballot.
The Tampa resident spent a year in prison 30 years ago on a drug charge.
Since then, he’s spent his life mentoring young people. His sister, Michelle Patty, was by his side Tuesday in downtown Tampa as John and many others gathered to share their stories at an event hosted by Organize Florida.
Michelle beamed as she supported her older brother.
“He is actually a poster child as to why the voters should feel real good today about this man being able to cast their ballot. He came out of prison a free man and has helped others ever since. He pays taxes, he’s a homeowner, he owns his own vehicle,” she said.
“We thank the citizens of Florida.”
She says her brother can’t wait to vote in the upcoming election for Tampa’s next mayor.
This new state law allows convicted felons to cast their ballots only if they’ve completed their sentences, including probation and restitution.
Felons convicted of murder or a sexual offense are not eligible to vote.
So, what would John say to Floridians who voted against Amendment 4?
“Everybody deserves a second chance,” he said.