Michael Bloomberg pays off $16m in fines to help 32,000 black and Hispanic felons vote in Florida

Justin Vallejo-Tue, September 22, 2020, 5:26 PM EDT

Michael Bloomberg has raised $16.1m to pay off fines and court debts of 32,000 convicted felons so they’re eligible to vote for Joe Biden in Florida.

The former New York City mayor’s contribution makes up the bulk of $20m raised by Florida Rights Restoration Coalition following a recent court ruling that allows convicted felons to regain their right to vote.

Black or Latino voters who were already registered to vote, with outstanding fines of less than $1,500, were eligible for the race-based payback initiative, according to Axios and The Washington Post, which first reported Mr Bloomberg’s $16.1m fundraising.

Along with an additional $5m from donors including John Legend, LeBron James and Michael Jordan, the program has paid off 32,000 voters in the key swing state of Florida.

It comes just days after Mr Biden made his first trip to the state to shore up support following an NBC-Marist poll that found Latinos evenly split between the Republican and Democratic candidates. That is well behind the 59 to 36 per cent lead Hillary Clinton had over Mr Trump in the same poll going into the 2016 election, which saw the president win by one per cent.

A 2018 state constitutional amendment that allowed felons to vote was challenged by voting rights groups, but it was upheld 10 days ago by the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals.

It paved the way for what Mr Bloomberg to add more cost-effective votes to the Democrats by narrowly focusing on black and Hispanic voters more likely to vote for Mr Biden, according to a memo reported by The Washington Post.

The memo says that the 31,790 targeted voters, of which 25,548 are black, is a margin close to that which elected Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and Republican Senator Rick Scott in 2018.

“We have identified a significant vote share that requires a nominal investment,” the memo read. “The data shows that in Florida, Black voters are a unique universe unlike any other voting bloc, where the Democratic support rate tends to be 90 per cent to 95 per cent.”

An advisor to Mr Bloomberg speaking to the Post on condition of anonymity said that the former Democratic presidential candidate wanted to pay off the fines “because it immediately activates tens of thousands of voters who are predisposed to vote for Joe Biden”.

Mr Bloomberg, who had already pledged at least $100mn to the Biden campaign’s efforts in Florida, said in a statement he is “determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it”.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right,” he said.

Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights and Restoration Coalition, said the organization would outline on Wednesday their plans to pay off the fines and get the 32,000 felons registered to vote before the 5 October deadline.

“This effort is about placing people over politics,” Mr Meade said.

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