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True to his word Micheal Bloomberg continues to push back against Donald Trump winning the reelection. Florida’s grand scheme to suppress returning citizens’ votes is moot now that the billionaire paid the fines of 32,000 felons barred from exercising their rights due to the inability to pay the fees themselves, according to an Axios report on Sept. 22, 2020.
Bloomberg intervened after the Supreme Court declined to reverse a lower court ruling that requires ex-felons to pay their fines before they can vote in any election. On July 17, Florida’s returning citizens’ hopes were once again dashed when they were told they could not legally cast their ballots unless their monetary debt to society is satisfied.
Amendment 4 Allows for Ex-Felons to Vote
In November 2018, Floridians “approved a groundbreaking ballot measure that would restore voting rights for up to 1.5 million people with felony convictions.” Florida’s Amendment 4 took effect in January 2019.
The language of the amendment said felons voting rights would automatically be restored once they have completed the terms of their sentence and parole or probation if required. Accordingly, it immediately added a million Florida citizens eligible to register and vote.
Not three months later, lawmakers went to work erecting barricades. The Republican-led Legislature voted to impose a series of constraints that could prevent thousands from voting in the 2020 general election and beyond.
Florida’s ex-felons who served their time are once again blocked from participating in the rights afforded them in the United States Constitution. Now they would be required to pay the courts their fines and fees in full before they can vote. Their financial obligations could amount to “tens of thousands of dollars,” according to The New York Times.
Patrick Penn, a 42-year-old returning citizen who spent 15 years in a Florida prison for “strong-arm robbery and a violent burglary,” says he does not know if he owes money to the court. He says the Republican lawmakers are telling ex-felons that exercising their right to vote is contingent on the ability to pay.
Florida Republican Lawmakers Concerns
While keeping Amendment 4 in place, Republicans claimed the ballot measure needed restrictions to clarify how it should be put into practice. However, partisan their “conditions” appear, they swear the text of the amendment requires an exact interpretation of what a completed felony sentence embodies.
In reality, the move appears to have all the ear markings of voter suppression. Civil rights organizations contend Florida’s Republican Lawmakers are concerned those with felony convictions are mostly liberal and likely to vote Democrat.
Ultimately, the legislative body voted along party lines, 67-42, with the majority endorsing the legislative restrictions.
Bloomberg Intercedes on Behalf of Disenfranchised Voters
When Bloomberg dropped his presidential campaign, he vowed to use his money and influence to help the Democrats oust President Trump from office on Nov. 3, 2020.
After the Supreme Court declined to reverse the lower court’s ruling about the restrictions added by Florida Republicans, he was moved to make a difference.
Since most criminals are poor when they are incarcerated and even poorer after leaving prison, Bloomberg decided to help 32,000 returning-citizens pay their fees and fines. His generosity will allow them to can cast ballots in the upcoming Florida general election and beyond.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
Axios: Bloomberg raises $16.1M to help Florida felons regain voting rights; Ursula Perano
The Hill: Bloomberg pays fines for 32,000 felons in Florida so they can vote; Dominick Mastrangelo
NPR: Supreme Court Deals Major Blow To Felons’ Right To Vote In Florida; Nina Totenberg
The New York Times: Floridians Gave Ex-Felons the Right to Vote. Lawmakers Just Put a Big Obstacle in Their Way; Patricia Mazzei
Featured Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License