A federal judge on Thursday struck down parts of a sweeping election law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021, saying in his ruling that some of the law's provisions were enacted "with the intent to discriminate against Black voters."
Judge Mark Walker said in his decision that Florida cannot enforce the law's limits on when ballot drop boxes maycould be accessed and requirements that third- party groups issue a warning when registering voters that their registration application may not be turned in on time. The judge also said that the law's prohibition of "any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter" near a polling place cannot be enforced because it could be read to ban "line warming" activities, like giving food or water to voters waiting in line.
DeSantis, known as SB90, last May, as Republican state legislatures around the country were also making made significant changes to their voting laws . At the time, DeSantis said that Florida had the "strongest election integrity measures in the country," but added, "we're not resting on our laurels."
"Defendants argue that SB 90 makes minor prophylactic changes to the election code," Walker wrote. "Plaintiffs, on the other hand, allege that SB 90 runs roughshod over the right to vote, unnecessarily making voting harder for all eligible Floridians, unduly burdening disabled voters, and intentionally targeting minority voters—all to improve the electoral prospects of the party in power."
"Having reviewed all the evidence, this Court finds that, for the most part, Plaintiffs are right," Walker added.
Walker, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, also said "Florida has a grotesque history of racial discrimination," and that history was a factor inweighed into his decision. The law was challenged by voting rights advocates, including the League of Women Voters of Florida.
"At some point, when the Florida Legislature passes law after law disproportionately burdening Black voters, this Court can no longer accept that the effect is incidental," Walker wrote. "Based on the indisputable pattern set out above, this Court finds that, in the past 20 years, Florida has repeatedly sought to make voting tougher for Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates."
Citing evidence and testimony from plaintiffs' experts, Walker wrote that "not only do Black voters disproportionately use drop boxes, but they also use them in precisely the ways SB 90 prohibits."
"This Court further finds that, to advance the Legislature's main goal of favoring Republicans over Democrats, the Legislature enacted some of SB 90's provisions with the intent to target Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates," Walker wrote.
Walker said that any future changes Florida makes to provisions dealing with third-party voter registration groups, drop boxes or "line warming" activities are subject to pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act for ten years.
"Senate Bill 90 was clearly an anti-voter measure that raised barriers to voting with specific impacts on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students, and communities of color," Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said in a statement. "The League is gratified that once again the constitutional rights of Florida's voters have superseded partisan politics."
In addition to the measures that Walker struck down, SB90 requires voters to provide either a driver's license or state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number when requesting a mail ballot. Voters will also need to request mail ballots more frequently.
Florida's GOP-controlled legislature passed another election- related bill this session that woulddedicated to investigating alleged election crimes.
"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, according to the Associated Press. DeSantis has previously said that if parts of the law were struck down by the federal district court, he is confident that an appeals court would reverse that decision.
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