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Is Michael Bloomberg right to pay felons' fees to vote in Florida?

Is Michael Bloomberg right to pay felons' fees to vote in Florida?
WRITTEN BY
09/27/20
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Fact Box

  • Michael R. Bloomberg is an entrepreneur and former mayor of New York City (2002 - 2013) dedicated to improving climate change, public health, and education. In 2020, he ran against Donald Trump in the presidential election, but his campaign was cut short. 
  • Bloomberg has raised $16 million to help pay felons’ fines in Florida, allowing them to vote ahead of the 2020 election. He said, 'The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right.”
  • Florida’s polls are currently “deadlocked” just weeks before the election. Trump and Biden both are tied at 48 percent in the polls, with the president leading with Latinos, and Biden with senior voters. 
  • Wednesday, Florida’s attorney general requested law enforcement officials to investigate Bloomberg’s fundraising efforts. 
  • Current Florida law states that anyone with a felony conviction must repay their fines before being allowed to vote. 
  • “It is a third-degree felony for someone to either directly or indirectly provide something of value to impact whether or not someone votes.”

Andrew (Yes)

The unfair Florida law requiring individuals with felony convictions to pay any court fees before their voting rights are restored amounts to little more than a poll tax. Ultimately, this law should be repealed, but until that is possible, individuals like Michael Bloomberg, with the means to do so, are absolutely right to pay these fees. Voting is an essential part of our democracy, and anything we can do to get more citizens to the ballot box strengthens our democracy. One’s right to vote should not be determined by financial security.

When an individual is released from custody, they have paid their debt to society and have been rehabilitated. There are nearly a quarter of a million people in Florida who cannot vote because they cannot pay fees associated with their sentencing. Florida repealed lifetime bans on voting for felons that were rooted in Jim Crow-era racism. These individuals have been given the right to cast a vote by the state; to put financial restrictions on them is wrong. Anyone who is in a position to provide relief absolutely should.

A disproportionately large number of would-be voters with felony convictions are Black or Latino, two groups frequently marginalized and obstructed with various voter suppression techniques. By paying the fees so these individuals can vote, Bloomberg is actively striking a blow against racism by ensuring that all people can access a ballot, regardless of their race.

Michael Bloomberg is absolutely right to pay the fees of rehabilitated felons, as disallowing felons the chance to vote based on financial circumstances is an unfair poll tax that deliberately targets minorities.


Mandy (No)

Voting is a privilege--not an absolute right--that can be forfeited by people who do not deserve it because they have injured society. 

Bloomberg has raised $16 million with the express intent to '...immediately activate tens of thousands of voters who are predisposed to vote for Joe Biden.' Memos show that even though the organization he is working with claims to be bi-partisan, the outcome will benefit the Democrats. This has spurred the Florida AG to refer Bloomberg to the FBI and Florida Law Enforcement for criminal investigation because 'incentives could be offered to a voter in a way that would … cause the voter... to vote in a particular manner.' It is against the law to 'directly or indirectly give or promise anything of value to another in casting his or her vote.' 

The law that Bloomberg is addressing when paying out the felons' fees is not a poll tax, as some have claimed. This is because the law doesn't apply to ALL citizens; it's only used for criminals who need to 'earn back' their status as voting citizens. It's morally wrong for someone to pay a felon's fees because the felon is responsible for the payment as a deterrent against recidivism. The FL amendment was expressly passed to make sure criminals completed both 'probation and restitution.' Technically if some other person is paying the fee, then the offender has not 'earned back the vote' as the law intended.  

Bloomberg is circumventing the will of voters by shortcutting the intent of the law and directly incentivizing voters to vote Democratic, which is not only ethically wrong but criminal.   

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