By The New Service of Florida
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a former New York mayor and onetime Democratic presidential candidate, is the latest celebrity to join in the effort to help Florida felons pay outstanding legal financial obligations so they can register to vote in November.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition has collected more than $20 million for a “Fines and Fees” fund established in response to a state law and a recent court ruling requiring felons to pay “legal financial obligations” — fees, fines, costs and restitution — to be eligible to vote. The 2019 law was aimed at implementing a constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 4, that restored voting rights to felons “upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole and probation.”
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Bloomberg raised more than $16 million to help Black and Hispanic felons in Florida who would be likely to support Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 election.
“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, and no American should be denied that right. Working together with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, we are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it,” Bloomberg said in a statement released by the coalition.
Felons and their advocates are racing against an Oct. 5 deadline to register to vote in the election. Neil Volz, deputy director of the coalition, said Tuesday his organization already has spent $5 million to clear up the court-ordered debts of about 5,000 convicted felons. More than 44,000 people have contributed to the effort, Volz said. “We have thousands of people all across the state who are hosting parties and rallying behind returning citizens. This reflects the spirit of Amendment 4,” Volz told The News Service of Florida.
The effort intensified following a Sept. 11 ruling by the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned a decision by a district judge, who said in May that the state cannot deny the right to vote to felons who are “genuinely unable to pay” court-ordered financial obligations. Voting-rights groups that challenged the law alleged that linking voting rights and finances amounts to an unconstitutional “poll tax.” The effort to wipe out felons’ debts has drawn financial support from such celebrities as musician John Legend and NBA superstars LeBron James and Michael Jordan, as well as Florida professional sports teams.