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Florida GOP’s voting restrictions smacked down by federal judge

Voting rights advocates called Florida’s new voter suppression law an unconstitutional mess. A federal judge said they’re right.

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In the wake of the 2020 elections, Florida Republicans had every reason to be pleased with the performance of their state’s electoral system. Indeed, officials in the Sunshine State initially took great pride in how well their system of elections performed in 2020 — a cycle in which GOP candidates excelled in races up and down the ballot.

But as we discussed a year ago, Florida Republicans nevertheless put new hurdles between voters and their democracy, in part because they could, in part to give themselves an added electoral advantage, and in part because the party concluded it had to enact policies in line with the GOP’s Trumpian conspiracy theories.

With this in mind, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies, among other things, made it harder for Floridians to take advantage of ballot drop boxes, imposed needless new restrictions on voter registration drives, and made it illegal to help voters (giving them water, for example) in line to vote.

Not surprisingly, voting rights advocates and democracy proponents filed suit. As NBC News reported, their litigation is succeeding, at least for now.

A federal judge barred Florida from enforcing the bulk of its new restrictive voting law on Thursday, siding with opponents who said the law was discriminatory and needlessly infringed on Floridians’ voting rights.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark Walker was largely unrestrained in his criticism, releasing a strongly worded 288-page ruling that declared much of the state’s voter suppression law unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction barring its enforcement.

The plaintiffs “allege that SB 90 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,” Walker wrote. “Having reviewed all the evidence, this Court finds that, for the most part, Plaintiffs are right.”

What’s more, because Florida “has repeatedly, recently, and persistently acted to deny Black Floridians access to the franchise,” the federal district court judge went a little further, reimposing “preclearance” restrictions on the state. NBC News’ report added:

The judge also ordered Florida to submit to a process known as “preclearance,” using Section 3(C) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a part of the law that allows courts to force jurisdictions to get pre-approval on election law changes. Under the order, Florida must clear voting law or regulation changes with Walker’s court for the next ten years, when those changes involve third-party voter registration organizations, drop boxes, or line-warming activities.

The state’s Republican administration will, of course, appeal the ruling, and voting opponents may very well succeed in the end. After all, Florida is in the 11th Circuit, and Donald Trump’s half-dozen appointees represent a big chunk of the circuit’s appellate bench. The odds do not appear to be in democracy advocates’ favor.

That said, as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern noted yesterday, in yesterday’s ruling, Walker “made it as difficult as possible for any fair-minded judge to find a flaw. The problem is that we’re pretty short on fair-minded judges.”

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