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Federal judge strikes down portions of restrictive Florida voting law

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Federal judge strikes down portions of restrictive Florida voting law
A federal judge ruled Thursday that portions of a Florida voting measure signed into law last year are unconstitutional and blocked multiple provisions from taking effect. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

March 31 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Thursday struck down various provisions of a voting law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last year, declaring them unconstitutional.

Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida blocked the state from enforcing Republican-backed limits on when ballot drop boxes may be accessed.

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He also blocked enforcement of requirements that third-party groups issue a warning to prospective voters that their registration application may not be turned in on time and changing rules around the "no-solicitation zone" at polling stations to prohibit "any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter."

Walker further prohibited the state from passing future laws involving drop boxes, third-party voter registration or "line warming" at polling sites without the approval of the court for the next 10 years.

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DeSantis signed the law in May, declaring that it would "increase transparency and strengthen the security of our elections."

In his ruling, Walker noted that the state argued the law made "minor prophylactic changes to the election code" while challengers, including voting rights groups such as the League of Women Voters of Florida and the NAACP, said the bill "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.

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"Having reviewed all the evidence, this court finds that, for the most part, the plaintiffs, are right," Walker wrote.

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Specifically, the judge cited evidence and testimony from the plaintiffs' experts noting that "not only do Black voters disproportionately use drop boxes, but they also use them in precisely the ways" the law prohibits.

"This court further finds that, to advance the Legislature's main goal of favoring Republicans over Democrats, its members enacted some of SB 90's provisions with the intent to target Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates," he wrote.

Walker also said that "Florida has a grotesque history of racial discrimination," which he said factored into his decision to block portions of the law.

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"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," he 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."

In addition to the blocked portions, the law also requires Florida residents to produce a driver's license number, state ID number or part of their Social Security number to receive a mail ballot and to request mail ballots more frequently.

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Earlier this month, Florida's Legislature passed an additional law that would make the state the first to establish an election crimes and voter fraud office.

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