Cable Networks Unite to Help Out Felons in Florida

In this photo illustration, the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) logo is seen on a smartphone. Photo and Caption: rafapress/

MTV is helping in an eleventh-hour push to help Floridians with felony convictions register to vote in time for the November election. MTV, Comedy Central and VH1 announced they would be making a joint $250,000 donation to pay off fines, fees and restitution in an effort to increase voter access for young people in Florida. The announcement is a response to a Florida law that requires payment of fines, fees and restitution before voting in the Sunshine State. 

The donation will be made to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a nonprofit organization that aims to help pay costs related to felony cases. The approval of Amendment 4 in 2018 ended Florida’s lifelong voting ban for felony convictions, but since then, the question of eligibility has been tied up in the courts after the controversial SB 7066 law required payment of fines, fees and restitution before voting.

The donation by ViacomCBS, the parent company of the networks, came a week after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2019 state law, which was aimed at carrying out a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to felons “upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole and probation.” In announcing its $250,000 donation to the FRCC, ViacomCBS President of Social Impact Strategy Erika Soto Lamb told WLRN-FM Miami the award “is a continuation of our legacy in both increasing voter access for young people, and also our continuing commitment to racial justice. We estimate at least 1,250 people will be able to vote this year because of the contribution we’re making.”

The effort to eliminate the felons’ fines and fees has attracted celebrities and sports athletes alike in joining to provide aid, including contributions by NBA star LeBron James, former NBA star Michael Jordan and Florida professional sports teams. Last month, the effort received a $100,000 donation from a nonprofit group run by Los Angeles Lakers star and former member of the Miami Heat, Lebron James. Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand also donated $500,000 to the effort.

Another last-minute push to help returning citizens regain the right to vote is coming from Democratic State Senator Jason Pizzo. The 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, along with the Miami-Dade State Attorney, Public Defender, and the Clerk of Courts, all jointly created the process, with help from Pizzo. 

Floridians already voted on the issue. 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. Exactly 64% of voters cast ballots in favor of a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored voting rights of non-violent felons after they completed their sentences.

About a third of the state’s 1.4 million are convicted Black felons who are unable to vote. 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. ABC News also stated in a news release that with fees ranging from $200 to $2,000, this donation could impact more than 1,250 returning citizens.