•A ruling handed down earlier this month by a Federal Appeals Court could keep as many as one million felons in Florida from voting in the November election. 

However, Michael Bloomberg and a number of celebrities are stepping up to help some.

The long battle to gain the right for felons to vote in Florida hit another roadblock earlier this month when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the state of Florida can condition voting rights on an individual’s ability to pay, reversing a lower court decision and prohibiting otherwise eligible citizens who owe fines and fees associated with a past felony conviction from voting this fall.

For decades, Florida was one of a hand full of states that had a lifetime ban on voting for felons. However, during the November 2018 election, Floridians overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4, which required the restoration of the voting rights of felons who had completed the terms of their sentencing. The amendment didn’t apply to those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, strongly opposes restoring felons voting rights. In July 2019, as a way to diminish the impact of the amendment, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed a bill requiring felons to pay any outstanding court fines or fees before they could cast their ballots.

Immediately, the American Civil Liberties Union proclaimed the requirement created “two classes of returning citizens: a group wealthy enough to afford their voting rights and another group who cannot afford to vote.”

The ACLU, joined by a collection of felons and voting and civil rights groups, sued DeSantis and state election officials over the law. In May, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle struck down most of it as an unconstitutional “pay to vote” scheme. DeSantis petitioned to overturn Hinkle’s ruling, and the appeals court held oral arguments in August. The bench, is made up mostly of judges appointed by President Donald Trump.

“States are constitutionally entitled to set legitimate voter qualifications through laws of general application and to require voters to comply with those laws through their own efforts,” Chief Judge William Pryor wrote in the court’s 6-4 opinion.

“It tells the State of Florida that it’s legitimate to put a price tag on voting,” Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, wrote in a statement. “Worse, the court says it’s okay to do so even when Black Floridians owe more than their White counterparts, and even when many can’t even determine how much they owe and to whom.”

Florida’s judicial system includes 20 circuit courts and 67 county courts. Most court records are independently maintained by a locally elected county clerk and not kept in a state-level repository. In a dissent, Judge Adalberto Jordan asked how the law expects felons to restore their rights if the state has no concrete method, such as a centralized resource for convictions, to confirm they have to settle first.

Bloomberg and others With Money

The Sept. 11 court ruling will leave thousands of felons off Florida’s voting rolls on Election Day. However, billionaire Mike Bloomberg and others are already stepping up to help.

The former Democratic presidential candidate has helped raise more than $20 million so that felons who completed their prison sentences can vote in the presidential election. Bloomberg also has pledged $100 million to help Joe Biden win Florida.

The Florida Rights Restitution Council had raised about $5 million before Bloomberg made calls to his friends with money, and raised almost $17 million more.

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, Bloomberg advisers say. In a state that decided the 2000 presidential election by 537 votes, that could be critical in a year when polls show Trump and former Vice President Joe 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.”

The Florida Rights Restitution Council 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.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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