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Judge strikes down parts of Florida election law he says suppresses black voters

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — 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 mail-in ballots, ballot boxes and other popular voting methods – changes that made it harder for black voters who, overall, 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, some future changes to the election law should be subject to court approval.

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

“This was only designed to fuel the narrative around the big lie and that the election was stolen from Trump,” Democratic state Rep. Fentrice Driskell, who is black, said in a phone interview. after the publication of the decision. “What we absolutely cannot have is a system that I almost feel is separate and unequal. Making it harder for black people to vote is unconstitutional. »

Democratic state Rep. Ramon Alexander said he and others argued before the bill passed that it would disproportionately affect voters of color, and he’s glad Walker agreed. .

“Florida has a long history of discrimination at the ballot box, and (the bill) was just another roadblock put in front of black people trying to vote legally,” said Alexander, who is black.

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

“In front of some district judges, we know we’ll lose no matter what because they won’t follow the law,” DeSantis said at a news conference in West Palm Beach. He did not specify why he thinks the decision is incorrect.

On appeal, the case would go to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, which is considered more conservative.

Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, who sponsored the bill, did not immediately return a voicemail requesting comment.

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Much of the debate has focused on mail-in ballots and how they are collected and returned. Walker struck down a provision in the law limiting when people could use a drop box to submit their ballot, as well as a section prohibiting anyone from engaging with people waiting to vote. Walker said the latter provision “deters groups that donate food, water and other forms of encouragement to voters waiting in line from continuing to do so.”

“One way, then, to gauge 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 line up to vote,” Walker said, citing testimony. which have shown that indeed to be the case.

Walker, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, also struck down a provision of the law imposing new restrictions on groups that register voters, including requiring people working in voter registration to submit their names and permanent addresses to the state.

Walker ordered that for the next 10 years, any attempt by the legislature to write new laws on the issues he overturned would require court approval.

“Floridians have been forced to live under a law that violates their rights on multiple fronts for over a year,” he wrote. “Without prior authorization, Florida could continue to enact such laws, replacing them with each legislative session if the courts view them with skepticism. Such a system mocks the rule of law.


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