Politics Is Money

Rather than spend the $100 million Mike Bloomberg promised them for their Florida campaign on TV and internet ads, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris should use it to pay off the court fees that Republicans are using to disenfranchise felons who have served their time.

But they’ll have to hurry. 

The deadline to register to vote this year in Florida is Oct. 5.

Another beauty of it is that it would infuriate Republicans. They’d call it vote-buying — as opposed to the Republican strategy of disenfranchisement, which is vote-stealing.

But it would not be buying votes. The money would be granted with only one obligation: to register and vote. OK, that’s two obligations. But no obligation to vote for Democrats. They could even cast an empty ballot.

More than 10% of Floridians are prohibited from voting for life, because of a felony conviction. More than 23% of Black Floridians are disenfranchised this way.

Florida has the most disenfranchised citizens of any of the 50 states, by percentage rate and in absolute numbers — 1.6 million — according to Pro.Con.org., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

In the November 2018 elections, 65% of Florida voters approved state constitutional Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to felons who had served their time — except for murder or sexual abuse. Until then, Florida was one of four states with a lifetime disenfranchisement for felonies.

In response, the Republican Legislature last year rammed through SB 7066, requiring felons to pay off their court fees before they could register to vote — a de facto poll tax.

On May 20 this year, a federal judge found that SB 7066 unconstitutionally discriminated against the poor and imposed an unconstitutional poll tax.

The 11th Circuit reversed on Sept. 11, by 6-4 vote, finding the law did not violate equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

Five of the six judges on the majority were appointed by Trump.

An ACLU expert testified at the 11th Circuit that more than 774,000 felons in Florida owe such financial obligations.

That’s a lot of votes.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which organized the Amendment 4 campaign, raised $4 million to help more than 4,000 “returning citizens” pay their court fines and fees, The New York Times reported on Sept. 11, the day of the shameful 11th Circuit ruling.

Four million dollars to re-enfranchise 4,000 citizens comes to $1,000 per human vote.

Bloomberg’s $100 million, if devoted entirely to re-enfranchising citizens — many of them Black — would provide 100,000 Floridians the right to vote — which the citizens of Florida have endorsed, at the ballot box.

And don’t think for a minute that reformed criminals do not want to vote. After voters approved Amendment 4, but before the 11th Circuit squelched it, more than 85,000 felons applied to register to vote in Florida. 

But as I said, the Oct. 5 registration deadline may make such a campaign impossible. So here’s another idea: Spend the money on a statewide campaign to get Puerto Rican refugees of Hurricane Maria to vote. 

That’s 100,000 votes.

Again, this would not be buying votes. It’s voter registration. Florida Governor Rick Scott said on Jan. 2, 2018, that more than 280,000 Puerto Ricans had come to Florida since the hurricane devastated the island. Let’s assume half of them were children, and that others have moved on, though many more have arrived since then.

Now, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, though they can’t vote in presidential elections. But they can if they live in Florida and register to vote there.

So, Democrats, can you wise up for once in your decades-long deadhead lives and seize the moment, and spend Mr. Bloomberg’s money where it will do everyone the most good?

Or will you just hand over the money to TV stations and internet giants?

Florida has 29 electoral votes, 10.7% of the 270 needed to win at the Electoral College. Bloomberg’s office and his lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

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