By Milo Mandelli-Valla ’24
In 2018, The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition launched an operation that would allow felons to regain the right to vote. This movement hit a speedbump in 2019 when the Florida Legislature passed a law, signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, which forced felons to pay fines they owed before regaining their right to voting.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg raised $16 million to fund the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition so that felons who have completed their sentences can vote in November. Bloomberg raised the money from both individual donors and foundations.
Pollsters generally agree that Florida is an important state for President Donald Trump to win. According to a poll by the New York Times and Siena College that came out in early October following the first presidential debate, Joe Biden leads Trump by 5 points in Florida, and, if anything, this move by Mike Bloomberg will likely increase that lead.
Trump is currently polling well among the Florida Latino population, which makes up 25% of Florida voters. A Quinnipiac poll found that Trump is beating Biden among Latinos in Florida, compared to the 2016 election where he got less than one-third of the Latino vote.
Bloomberg, a former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, is now trying to help his party in a different way–by supporting the Democratic nominee’s presidential campaign. He is likely focusing on Florida in particular because the state’s electoral votes (it has 29) are so valuable.
Bloomberg has nearly 55 billion dollars, so paying felon’s bails is no problem financially for him. Bloomberg has already put in 100 million dollars into Biden’s campaign. The money being put into bailing these felons out to vote has come from that 100 million put into the Biden campaign.
It is important to note that the deadline for registration to vote in the general election in Florida was October 5, so this effort by Bloomberg has come to an end, as it no longer has an effect on the turnout in Florida.
The Hill reports that Bloomberg paid for the bails, fines, and any other payments for 32,000 felons in Florida. Republicans call this an attempt to buy the election and are using Bloomberg’s work to fire up their base, calling the operation illegal.
One of these Republicans is Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, who calls Bloomberg’s operation an abuse of his wealth Gaetz believes that the Attorney General of Florida, who is a Republican, should launch an investigation on Bloomberg to see if these moves are violating state laws.
Florida attorney general Ashley Moody, (also under pressure by President Trump to force an investigation), has sent a letter to the FBI and the Department of Law Enforcement urging them to launch such an investigation.
This move by the Republican party in Florida to stop Bloomberg may not even be necessary. While jail systems are disproportionately black, and the black community strongly supports Joe Biden, the Florida jail system’s felons with unpaid fines are mostly white. Polls show that whites actually favor Trump, so the strategy of getting felons to vote may actually end up helping Trump.
This group tends to vote in favor of the Republican party, and thus, President Trump. While the deal made with Bloomberg by these felons is to vote for Joe Biden, there isn’t necessarily any guarantee that they actually will do so, and they could very well just end up voting for Trump.
In addition, the Coalition, unlike Bloomberg, does not intend to have an effect on which party gets more votes. Rather, the Coalition just wants people to be able to use their right to vote in whatever way they choose.
These factors add nuance to the Bloomberg effort in Florida, and it is crucial to note these important factors when considering how to view the voting situation in Florida, and how Bloomberg really is having an effect.