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Sunday, November 1, 2020

Bloomberg Effort Raises $20 Million to Pay Fines for Florida Felons So They Can Vote

An effort bolstered by support from billionaire Michael Bloomberg has raised over $20 million to pay off fines for Florida felons, enabling them to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

Bloomberg, NBA star LeBron James, and singer John Legend were among those helping raise funds for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition with an October 5 voter registration deadline looming.

The effort drew contributions from more than 44,000 people and eclipsed the $20 million milestone, the coalition announced Tuesday.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right,” Bloomberg, a former Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement.

“Working together with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, we are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it.”

“The ability to vote should be unencumbered and free of charge. With this effort, we are creating a more inclusive democracy that we all can be proud of,” added Desmond Meade, the coalition’s executive director.

In November 2018, Florida passed an amendment, commonly referred to as Amendment 4, to the state’s constitution that allows ex-convicts to vote “upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation,” but excludes those who were convicted of murder or felony sexual offense.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill passed by the state legislature the next year, requiring all ex-felons pay off fines and fees before being granted the right to vote.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks with President Donald Trump in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Sept. 8, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The Florida Supreme Court sided with the governor in January. A court battle played out over the law, with one appeals court and a federal judge blocking the state from enforcing it until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July that the law would stay in place.

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Sept. 11 also ruled in favor of DeSantis.

Some 700,000 ex-felons in Florida are affected by the rulings, according to the coalition.

Florida is a critical swing state that could determine whether President Donald Trump, a Republican, gets a second term.

Bloomberg’s involvement in the coalition’s effort came after he vowed to spend $100 million in Florida to boost the campaign of his former rival, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“Mike Bloomberg is committed to helping defeat Trump, and that is going to happen in the battleground states,” Kevin Sheekey, a senior Bloomberg advisor, said on Sept. 13.

Trump derided the move, writing on Twitter, “I thought Mini Mike was through with Democrat politics after spending almost 2 Billion Dollars, and then giving the worst and most inept Debate Performance in the history of Presidential Politics.”

Janita Kan and Jack Phillips contributed to this report.

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