By BRENDAN FARRINGTON
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. ( Associated Press) – A federal judge has rejected parts of a Florida election law passed last year, saying in a ruling Thursday that the Republican-led government uses subtle tactics to oppress Black voters.
The law tightened rules on mailed ballots, drop-off boxes and other popular election methods – changes that made it more difficult for black voters who generally have more socio-economic disadvantages than white voters, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in his ruling.
“For the past 20 years, the majority in the Florida Legislature has attacked the voting rights of its black voters,” Walker wrote. Given that history, he said, any future election law changes should be subject to approval under the Federal Voting Rights Act.
Florida’s Republican-led legislature has joined several others across the country to implement election reforms after former Republican President Donald Trump made unfounded allegations that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Democrats have called such reforms a biased attempt to keep some voters out of the ballot box.
Much of the debate has focused on voice-by-mail ballots and how they are collected and returned. Walker overturned a provision of the law that restricts when people can use a drop box to submit their ballot, along with an article banning anyone from engaging with people waiting to vote. Walker said the latter provision “discourages groups that provide food, water and other forms of encouragement to voters waiting in long lines to continue doing so.”
“One way to measure whether this provision will have a divergent impact on Black or Latino voters is to determine whether black and Latino voters will be waiting in line excessively in the queue to vote,” he said, referring to evidence which has shown that this is indeed the case.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made the election bill a priority, said the state would appeal against Walker’s decision and win.
“Tenor certain district judges 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 specifically say why he thought the verdict was wrong.
On appeal, the case would go to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, which is considered very conservative.