Casting a ballot to vote just became even harder for felons in Florida who have repaid their debts to society by serving their time, and now folks are calling on Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg — by far the wealthiest of the Democratic presidential candidates — to step up in the name of philanthropic democracy.
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday sided with Republicans who only want former felons’ voting rights restored they repay in full all outstanding court-ordered fees, fines and restitution. The non-binding opinion came after Amendment 4, passed in 2018, restored the right to vote to most nonviolent felons who finished “all terms of sentence.” At first, the bill was celebrated by supporters as a step forward in expanding voting rights. However, in only a couple of months, the words “all terms of sentence” were challenged within the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Eventually, lawmakers rallied behind Senate Bill 7066, which redefined “all terms” to include all financial obligations. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court sided with the authors of the bill on Thursday. “We conclude that the phrase, when read and understood in context, plainly refers to obligations and includes ‘all’ — not some — LFOs [legal financial obligations] imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt,” justices said.
It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of felons owe court fees, fines or restitution but they’re not able to pay off the amounts immediately. A lot of felons, like those who owe millions of dollars, are on payment plans that could last for the rest of their life.
However, two people who can pay off millions of dollars are certainly presidential candidates Blomberg and Steyer. According to NPR, the self-funding Democrat billionaires have spent a combined $320 million in ads alone as of Monday. So far, Bloomberg, a business mogul and former New York City mayor, and Steyer, an activist business executive, have both accounted for 78% of all the ad spending in the presidential race thus far.
Twitter users made suggested on Thursday after the news out of Florida broke that the two of them pay off felons’ fines, fees and restitution. Soon their idea gained traction. “Can Steyer and Bloomberg skip a week of TV ads and pay those fines, fees and restitution,” the user wrote.
The legality of Bloomberg and Steyer paying off felons’ fines so they can vote is unclear. Since it could influence the 2020 presidential election, there could be stipulations somewhere restricting how candidates distribute funds to voters. Another presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, ran into this same issue when he announced during a Democratic debate that he would give away $1,000 a month to 10 randomly selected families for a year. The Washington Post noted, “campaign funds cannot be used for the personal expenses of ‘any person.‘”
However, Bloomberg and Steyer are each multi-billionaires. It’s possible they could use a portion of their personal fortunes to pay off felons’ bills. Even if they’re not allowed to pay by law, the likelihood of both of them dropping out of the race is very high, making them still eligible to do so before Florida’s voter registration deadlines. They’re both not polling very competitively in Florida, either.
If and when Bloomberg and Steyer do leave the race, would they be down to pay off the felons’ debts? Both candidates have run on platforms of criminal justice reform and bail reform. This would be the perfect time to put their politics into action.