Billionaire Mike Bloomberg has paid off $20million in debt for more than 31,000 felons in Florida so that they can vote in the state where just 537 votes decided the presidential election in 2000.
The former Democratic presidential candidate stepped in to help felons who have completed their prison sentences so they can vote on November 3.
Bloomberg, who is worth more than $50billion, raised more than $20million to assist in his endeavor while also pledging $100million to help Joe Biden win Florida.
‘We know to win Florida we will need to persuade, motivate and add new votes to the Biden column. This means we need to explore all avenues for finding the needed votes when so many votes are already determined,’ Bloomberg said in a written statement.
‘The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right. Working together with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, we are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it,’ the statement added.
A Bloomberg adviser told the Washington Post: ‘Mike wanted to get this done for two reasons. One, because it’s the right thing to do for the democracy. And two, because it immediately activates tens of thousands of voters who are predisposed to vote for Joe Biden.’
The move comes just days after Florida Gov Ron DeSantis won a court victory to keep felons from voting until they’ve paid off fines, restitution and court fees.
A federal appellate court ruled on September 11 that in addition to serving their sentences, Florida felons must pay all fines, restitution and legal fees before they can regain their right to vote.
The case could have broad implications for the November elections. Florida has 29 electoral college votes that are crucial to President Donald Trump’s hopes of staying in the White House.
Under Amendment 4, which Florida voters passed overwhelmingly in 2018, felons who have completed their sentences would have voting rights restored. Republican lawmakers then moved to define what it means to complete a sentence.
In addition to prison time served, lawmakers directed that all legal financial obligations, including unpaid fines and restitution, would also have to be settled before a felon could be eligible to vote.
The Florida Rights Restitution Coalition had raised about $5million before Bloomberg made calls to raise almost $17million more, according to Bloomberg staffers.
The money is targeted for felons who registered to vote while the law was in question and who owe $1,500 or less.
That accounts for about 31,100 people, the staffers said. In a state that decided the 2000 presidential election by 537 votes, that could be critical in a year when polls show Trump and Biden in a dead heat.
Organizers for the group say they aren’t targeting people registered with a particular political party.
‘To hell with politics, to hell with any other implications or inuations, at the end of the day it’s about real people, real lives, American citizens who want to be a part of this,’ said Desmond Meade, the group’s executive director.
‘People with felony convictions have had their voices silenced for so long,’ Meade added.
The group said other donors include John Legend, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, Ben & Jerry’s, Levi Strauss & Co, the Miami Dolphins, the Orlando Magic, the Miami Heat and Stephen Spielberg.