Judge strikes down parts of Florida election law; cites race

Brendan Farrington
Associated Press

Tallahassee, Fla. – A federal judge struck down portions of a Florida election law passed last year, saying in a ruling Thursday that the Republican-led government was using subtle tactics to suppress Black voters.

The law tightened rules on mailed ballots, drop boxes and other popular election methods – changes that made it more difficult for Black voters who, overall, have more socioeconomic disadvantages than white voters, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in his ruling.

In this Oct. 28, 2020 file photo, a poll worker deposits ballots at the official drop box outside the Westchester Regional Library during early voting for the general election in Miami.

“For the past 20 years, the majority in the Florida Legislature has attacked the voting rights of its Black constituents,” Walker wrote. Given that history, he said, any future election law changes should be subject to approval under the federal Voting Rights Act.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters and members of the media after a bill signing on Nov. 18, 2021, in Brandon, Fla.

Florida’s Republican-led legislature joined several others around the country in passing election reforms after Republican former President Donald Trump made unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Democrats have called such reforms a partisan attempt to keep some voters from the ballot box.

Much of the debate focused on vote-by-mail ballots and how they are collected and returned. Walker overturned a provision of the law limiting when people could use a drop box to submit their ballot, along with a section prohibiting anyone from engaging with people waiting to vote. Walker said the latter provision “discourages groups who give food, water, and other forms of encouragement to voters waiting in long lines from continuing to do so.”

“One way, then, to measure whether this provision will have a disparate impact on Black or Latino voters is to determine whether Black and Latino voters are disproportionately likely to wait in line to vote,” he said, citing testimony that showed that to indeed be the case.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who made the election bill a priority, said the state will appeal Walker’s decision and win.

“In front of certain district judges, we know we will lose no matter what because they are not going to follow the law,” DeSantis said at a news conference in West Palm Beach. He did not say specifically why he believes the ruling is incorrect.

Upon appeal, the case would go to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, which is seen as being very conservative.