Cable networks MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central, part of ViacomCBS are donating $250,000 to pay court-ordered costs for felons who have served their time behind bars in an effort to restore their right to vote.
This funding comes about a week following a ruling from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the state could require felons to pay fines, restitution and legal fees before they can regain their right to vote. The recent ruling by the Atlanta-based appeals court overturned a district judge’s ruling, which said the state cannot deny the right to vote to felons who are “genuinely unable to pay” court-ordered debts.
Floridians already voted on the issue — 64% of voters cast ballots in favor of a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored non-violent felon voting rights after they completed their sentences. The legal dispute arose after lawmakers looked to define what it means to complete a sentence, siding with the state that returning felons must satisfy all court fines and fees and restitution before rights are restored.
The donation from ViacomCBS, the parent company of the networks, will go to the “fees and fines” fund created by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition in response to the ruling.
Voting-rights groups challenged the law, alleging linking voting rights and finances amounts to an unconstitutional poll tax.
“The fees and fines that returning citizens are being forced to pay to cast a ballot are a modern-day poll tax that is being used to keep marginalized people from voting — and it disproportionately affects Black voters,” Brianna Cayo Cotter, senior vice president of social impact for ViacomCBS, said in a news release.
About a third of the state’s 1.4 million convicted felons who are unable to vote are Black. If all 1.4 million eligible former felons registered to vote, they would make up roughly 10% of the voting population in the state, according to ABC news.
With fees ranging from $200 to $2,000, this donation could impact more than 1,250 returning citizens, the network said in a news release.
The effort to restore voting rights has drawn the attention of several high-profile individuals who have given financially to help, including LeBron James, Michael Jordan and several Florida professional sports teams.