James’ voting rights group to pay fees for Floridians with felony records

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LeBron James, of the Los Angeles Lakers, celebrates his three pointer during a 104-96 win over the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center on November 29, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Harry How/Getty Images)

The NBA’s pending resumption is neither distracting nor detracting from LeBron James’ work to protect American voting rights.

More Than A Vote, a group founded by James and other prominent Black athletes and entertainers, announced Friday it will help pay off the court debts and fees of Florida voters with felony records so they can cast ballots in the upcoming presidential election. It will be the group’s first state-level campaign.

The initial donation will be for $100,000 to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which advocated for a 2018 amendment to the state’s constitution that sought to make it so people convicted of felonies — except for those convicted of murder or rape — would be able to vote upon completing all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.

“In 2018, the people of Florida overwhelmingly voted to automatically restore the voting rights of most formerly incarcerated individuals,” More Than A Vote wrote on Twitter. “But the state legislature responded with a new law that requires returning citizens to pay all fines and fees associated with the convictions before they can register to vote.”

That law, enacted by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis in 2019, was met with a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union mere hours later. The ACLU argued that imposing the new limits would unconstitutionally price some people out of the ballot box, creating a pay-to-vote system, and undermining the intent of Florida voters.

Evidence submitted during the court case by a University of Florida professor suggested that nearly 775,000 people with felony convictions are ineligible to vote in Florida because of restrictions, roughly 335,000 of whom were Black.

A Supreme Court vote in mid-July upheld Florida’s decision to prevent people with felony convictions from voting unless they have paid court fines and fees for the time being.

“Those in power essentially created a poll tax to overturn the will of the people,” More Than A Vote wrote on Twitter. “That’s why More Than A Vote is supporting the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to help formerly incarcerated American citizens — too many of them Black and Brown — pay off their outstanding fines and fees and register to vote in the 2020 election and beyond.

“The right to vote should not come with a price tag.”

In addition to More Than A Vote’s $100,000 donation, the organization is partnering with Magnolia Pictures and Participant, a media company that describes itself as having a socially-driven mission, to host an online screening of a new documentary that chronicles the life of John Lewis.

Lewis, a civil rights icon who fought for racial equality across the Jim Crow South and went on to be known as the “moral conscience” of the United States congress, died last Friday at the age of 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

All proceeds from the screening will go toward’s the coalition’s fines-and-fees fund, which has already raised more than $1.5 million.

James, along with other athletes and artists, launched More Than A Vote in June. At the time, James made clear his intention was to use his platform as a world-renowned athlete to help combat voter suppression.

“Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial,” James told The New York Times. “We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.

“… There’s a lot of people that want change in the Black community. If you actually don’t put in the work or if you don’t have the mind-set, there’s never going to be change.”

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