Former New York Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg has raised $16 million to help pay the outstanding fines and fees of felons in Florida, allowing them to regain their voting rights ahead of Election Day.
The initiative combines funds raised by Bloomberg in the past week from prominent individuals and foundations with $5 million raised by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to target 32,000 felons in Florida who are already registered to vote and owe less than $1,500 as part of their restitution.
"The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Working together with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, we are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it.”
Florida is a hotly contested state in the November presidential election, with President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden locked in a virtual tie, according to recent polls. Trump won the state in 2016 by 1.2 percentage points, a less than 113,000 vote difference.
Bloomberg’s effort to help pay fines is separate from the $100 million he pledged to help Biden in the Sunshine State.
Bloomberg worked with artist John Legend to fundraise from donors including Susan Buffett, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, former hedge fund manager Michael Novogratz and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
In 2018, Florida voters passed a measure restoring voting rights for felons who have completed their parole or probation periods and were not convicted of murder or sexual offenses.
However, the Republican-controlled state legislature limited the new law’s effects by requiring payment of all fees, fines, and restitution that were part of a felon's sentencing. The added restrictions were upheld by the Supreme Court.
The voting effort targets mostly Black and Latino felons in Florida who registered to vote while the law was in question — populations that have historically backed Democrats in larger numbers.
"Republicans & Democrats alike overwhelmingly supported this initiative in 2018, because in America, you get a second chance,” said Steve Schale, political strategist and 2008 Florida state director for Barack Obama, in a statement to NBC News. “I’ve long contended the political calculations on this are overblown - what’s important here is tens of thousands of our fellow citizens who have paid their debt to society can now with confidence participate in the November elections."
In August, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) introduced a House bill to prohibit all states from denying federal voting rights to felons and returning citizens with prior criminal convictions.
“Floridians overwhelmingly voted in 2018 to restore voting rights to people who had served their time,” Demings said in a statement to NBC News. “During dark times in our history, millions of Americans have been denied their voting rights by unconstitutional poll taxes and tests like those imposed now by the Florida GOP. I strongly support national and grassroots efforts to fulfill the intention of Amendment 4, reject GOP sabotage of that effort, and restore the voices and votes of our fellow citizens."