TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) — A federal judge on Thursday ruled that several parts of a Florida voting law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis last year are unconstitutional and barred the state from enforcing it.
Senate Bill 90 imposes new restrictions on voting by mail, drop box ballots, third-party voter registration and "line warming activities" which subjects anyone seen passing out food or water to voters waiting in line to immediate arrest.
The bill was challenged in federal court last May by the League of Women Voters of Florida, as well as several voting rights advocacy groups, including the NAACP, the Equal Ground Education Fund and Florida Rising.
In a 288-page ruling, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark Walker, a Barack Obama appointee, referred to the voting as a "sacred right" and sided with the plaintiff's claims that several of the new provisions were enacted with the intent to discriminate against Black voters.
"Florida has a history of maintaining its voter rolls in a discriminatory manner. Since 2000, Florida has repeatedly purged or sought to purge its voter rolls. These purges and attempted purges have consistently and disproportionately affected, or threatened to affect, Black voters," Judge Walker wrote in the order.
Judge Walker further agreed that the bill's provisions to voting by mail enrollment, unfairly affects the disabled and elderly who are unable to vote in person, such as one of the plaintiffs, Susan Rogers, who is blind.
"It might not be difficult for a voter who is not disabled to locate their ID, download a form on a website, fill it out, and mail it to their local SOE, but it is like running a gauntlet for Ms. Rogers and other similarly disabled voters. It is easy to imagine how much more difficult requesting a VBM ballot will be for those who have disabilities but do not have internet access or accessibility tools," Judge Walker wrote.
Defendants in the lawsuit included Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Attorney General Ashley Moody, who according to the ruling argued that the law “makes minor prophylactic changes to the election code.”
According to the order, the defendants argued why people couldn't set reminders on their calendar for when to request a voting by mail ballot every time it needs to be done, to which the court ruled their suggestion "misses the point," and that a denial of equal treatment still exists even if the challenged barrier can be overcome.
The drop-box provisions under the bill requires an employee of each Supervisor of Elections’ office to continuously monitor drop boxes at the supervisor’s office when the drop box is accessible for deposit of ballots and imposes a $25,000 civil penalty on them if they fail to do so.
It also reduces the availability of drop boxes, which plaintiff Poder Latinx argued would create longer voting lines on election days, especially in Latino and Black neighborhoods.
Judge Walker also ruled that the bill would negatively impact voting rights advocates such as the plaintiffs, by causing them to spend more money and resources on educating voters about the new voting laws.
The ruling further prohibits the Legislature from passing any future voter laws without first getting approval from the court.
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