More than $16 million has been raised by Michael Bloomberg to help Florida’s convicted felons repay debts owed—a requirement that must be met before those returning citizens can vote.
Working in partnership with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, about 32,000 people are now cleared of monetary obligations, Axiom reports. Eligible for the aid were any felons with fees and fines totaling $1500 or less.
Florida’s 2018 law reinstating voting rights for felons was a monumental break for social equity in the U.S. But a hurdle was placed before their participation in the country’s democratic system: All outstanding fees and financial restitution must be zeroed out before voter registration is permitted.
According to reporter Danny Rivero, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is pushing for an investigation into how paying fines on behalf of felons might violate election law. Subsequent to news breaking of Bloomberg’s efforts, Moody requested in a letter to the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement that the agencies “further investigate this matter and take appropriate steps as merited.”
The issue is whether or not this financial help could be considered a form of bribery. But many pro-voting rights activists consider any requirement of fees to be paid to be a poll tax—a measure that’s been illegal since 1964.
A Bloomberg rep told Axios about the donation that the “right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right.”
Voter disenfranchisement continues, however: not all returning citizens in Florida will be able to pay their debts in order to register, some states don’t permit convicted felons to vote at all and, of course, the people of Puerto Rico have never been allowed this right.