Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Judge Overrules Most of Florida’s 2021 Election Law

The ruling found that the restriction of drop boxes, creating new requirements for voter applications and banning interactions with voters in line were unconstitutional and unenforceable.

(TNS) — Ruling that the Legislature intentionally discriminated against Black voters, a federal judge in Tallahassee struck down most of Florida’s controversial 2021 election law and ordered the state not to make any future changes to those provisions without court approval.

In his decision issued Thursday, Judge Mark Walker ruled that the sections of the law restricting drop boxes, creating new requirements for voter applications including vote-by-mail, and banning interactions with voters in line were unconstitutional and could not be enforced by the state. The law was a top priority of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Walker also put Florida under the “preclearance” provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act, a measure first used on mostly Southern states in the 1960s to prevent them from discriminating against minorities in the voting booth. Under it, the state would need his court’s approval to make any revisions to those provisions of its elections laws for the next 10 years.

This is the first time the entire state, not including five southwestern counties, has been placed under preclearance as part of the Voting Rights Act going back to the 1960s.

DeSantis vowed an appeal, calling Walker’s decision “the judicial equivalent of pounding the table” and “performative partisanship.”

“I think that that’s going to be reversed on appeal,” DeSantis said in Palm Beach. “The only question is how quickly it gets reversed on appeal, but it’s not going to be able to withstand appellate scrutiny.”

Walker cited Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote about Americans not being “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” but added that a few years later King said, “some of the old optimism was a little superficial and now it must be tempered with a solid realism.”

“While this Court lauds the idealism of Dr. King’s dream in 1963, this Court is not so naive to believe that the Florida Legislature would not pass an intentionally discriminatory law in 2021,” Walker wrote. “We do not live in a colorblind society — not that this was ever Dr. King’s point.

“For the past 20 years, the majority in the Florida Legislature has attacked the voting rights of its Black constituents,” Walker wrote. “They have done so not as, in the words of Dr. King, ‘vicious racists, with (the) governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification,’ but as part of a cynical effort to suppress turnout among their opponents’ supporters. That, the law does not permit.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that states could not be placed under preclearance under the Voting Rights Act based on their treatment of minority voters in 1964, 1968 and 1972. Five Florida counties, including Hillsborough, had been placed under preclearance in 1975 based on low Hispanic voting numbers.

Walker placed Florida under preclearance, however, based on another section of the act that allows the court to step in if current, intentional violations of the 15th Amendment’s equal rights measures have been found.

The provision has been rarely used, according to the Columbia Law Review, but was cited in decisions in southern Texas and in Arkansas over the last few years.

Walker criticized the 2013 Supreme Court ruling and others making their way through the court system, writing that “the right to vote, and the VRA particularly, are under siege.”

The controversial law, passed largely along party lines, was pushed by DeSantis despite his praise of Florida’s elections system after the 2020 vote. But DeSantis and GOP legislators ended up following the lead of former President Donald Trump, who falsely claimed there was massive voter fraud, and GOP-controlled legislatures nationwide that moved to enact voting restrictions.

State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, when asked for evidence of any fraud in the state, said, “I don’t know, but I’m sure it was going on,” according to The New York Times.

The changes struck down in Walker’s ruling include restrictions on drop boxes at early voting sites that made them only available during early voting hours, which in some counties, including Lake County, last only from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Boxes at elections offices also had to be monitored by an employee at all times.

Walker cited Republican Alan Hays, elections supervisor of Lake County, and his testimony in opposition to changing the popular 24/7 drop boxes.

Another change struck down involved the vote-by-mail process that required voters to sign up every two years and provide their Florida driver’s license number, Florida identification card number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number with their request.

Also struck down was the requirement that third-party organizations needed to submit voting applications collected by their signature gatherers to the voters’ home counties or face fines of up to $1,000 per person, making it more difficult to register college students.

Finally, the controversial provision about “line warming,” or providing aid to voters waiting in line to vote, also was struck down. That provision had been watered down from its original language that would have banned giving out water to people in line.

But it still banned soliciting votes from people waiting in line, and experts had said the broadness of the law meant that people could still have been in trouble if they were in any way perceived as doing so.

©2022 Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Special Projects