Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online news service

Florida News

Bloomberg Raises $20M to Register 31,000 Florida Felons to Vote

Mike Bloomberg with quote: "The right to vote is fundamental to or democracy
Michael Bloomberg, Photo: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Former Republican New York City Mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg announced his political organization has raised about $20 million to pay court fines and fees for more than 31,000 Florida felons, allowing them to vote in the upcoming election.

"The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right," Bloomberg said. "Working together with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, we are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it."

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) had raised about $5 million before Bloomberg “made calls” to raise between $17 million and $20 million after donating $100 million to the Florida Democratic Party.

The FRRC has received donations from John Legend, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Ben & Jerry’s, Levi Strauss & Co., the Miami Dolphins, the Orlando Magic, the Miami Heat, Stephen Spielberg, MTV, Comedy Central and VH1.

The FRRC is allocating the money first to felons who owe $1,500 or less in legal obligations, particularly those among the 80,000-plus felons who registered to vote before a federal ruling this month upheld a state law prohibiting them from casting ballots if they still owe fees.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court upheld Sept. 11 Florida’s challenge to a federal ruling declaring unconstitutional a 2019 law that requires the state’s 1.4 million eligible felons to pay all legal obligations to vote.

The ruling will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nearly 65 percent of Florida voters in November 2018 approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights for felons, excluding those convicted of murder and sexual assault, after “completing sentences.”

During the 2019 legislative session, the Legislature adopted Senate Bill 7066 as “enabling legislation,” which interpreted “completing sentences” to mean paying all legal obligations, including court fees, fines and restitution.

SB 7066 was challenged by an array of groups, launching a year-long federal legal battle that culminated in May during an eight-day trial in U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle’s Tallahassee courtroom.

In his May 24 decision in Jones v. DeSantis, Hinkle called SB 7066 a “pay-to-vote system” that imposes “a tax by any other name” and required the state to ascertain how much a felon owes within 21 days of a status request or voting rights were automatically restored.

In a 200-page opinion, however, Circuit Court of Appeal Chief Justice William Pryor refuted three Hinkle findings, ruling SB 7066 does not impose a poll tax or violate the 14th Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses, nor does it violate 24th Amendment voting rights.

Bloomberg’s advisers, in his press release, said the money they raised, which did not come personally from Bloomberg and would not count against his $100 million pledge to state Democrats, should cover about 31,000 felons identified by FRRC.

FRRC Executive Director Desmond Meade told reporters the organization does not care or check what party felons are registering in.

“To hell with politics. To hell with any other implications or insinuations. At the end of the day, it’s about real people, real lives, American citizens who want to be a part of this,” Meade said. “People with felony convictions have had their voices silenced for so long.”

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 


Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.