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Florida judge blocks new Republican-backed voting law as racially discriminatory

Randy Mancini 3 Mar 31
FILE PHOTO: Drive-thru voting during 2020 U.S. presidential election at Palm Beach County, Florida
FILE PHOTO: Poll worker stands next to a ballot collection van during drive-thru voting on Election Day in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., November 3, 2020. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

March 31, 2022

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) -A federal judge in Florida on Thursday invalidated several of the state’s new Republican-backed voting restrictions, ruling that they violate minority voters’ constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee blocked the state from enforcing provisions aimed at reducing the use of drop boxes for ballots, making it more difficult for third-party organizations to collect voter registration forms, and banning groups from offering food, water and other aid to people waiting in line to vote.

Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running for reelection and is also considered a top Republican contender for the 2024 presidential election, signed the bill into law last year.

The legislation is among several sweeping voting restrictions passed by Republican-controlled states in the wake of Republican former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

In a 288-page opinion that followed a trial early this year, Walker said the legislation, known as Senate Bill 90, built upon two decades of discriminatory voting laws from the Florida legislature aimed at strengthening Republican power.

“For the past 20 years, the majority in the Florida Legislature has attacked the voting rights of its Black constituents,” Walker wrote.

Walker also criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for its 2013 decision weakening the Voting Rights Act, the federal civil rights legislation that protects minority voters from discrimination. That ruling struck down a key provision, known as preclearance, that required certain states with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval to change voting laws.

As part of his decision, Walker said he would require preclearance for the next 10 years for any new law governing third-party voter registration groups, drop boxes or aid to voters waiting in line.

“This Court recognizes that the right to vote, and the VRA particularly, are under siege,” Walker wrote.

A spokesperson for DeSantis did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the state Senate’s Republican president, Wilton Simpson, said his office was reviewing the decision.

The ruling is likely to be appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is widely seen as a more conservative court. Walker was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Mark Porter)