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

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A poll worker casts a mail-in ballot for a voter at a drive-thru polling station at Miami-Dade County Elections Department during the 2020 presidential election in Miami, Florida, US, November 3, 2020. (Reuters photo)

A federal judge in Florida has struck down several of the state's new Republican-backed voting restrictions, saying they violate minority voters' constitutional rights.

US District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee ruled on Thursday that new restrictions, such as reducing drop boxes for ballots and banning organizations from offering aid to people waiting to vote, were unconstitutional.

The new rules were part of a legislative package known as Senate Bill 90, which was signed into law last year by Governor Ron DeSantis, who is currently running for reelection and is also considered a top Republican contender for the 2024 presidential election.

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

Democrats have described such reforms a partisan attempt to keep some voters from the ballot box.

Judge Walker said that the legislation specifically targeted minority voters given the fact that ballot drop boxes are more prevalent in majority Black communities in the state.

He said Senate Bill 90 was built upon two decades of discriminatory voting laws from the Florida legislature which aimed to strengthen Republican power.

"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," wrote Walker in his decision.

"Florida has repeatedly sought to make voting tougher for Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates," Walker continued in his ruling. "In summation, Florida has a horrendous history of racial discrimination in voting."

He also attacked the US Supreme Court for its decision in 2013 which weakened the Voting Rights Act, the federal civil rights legislation that protects minority voters against discrimination.

That ruling struck down a key provision, known as preclearance, according to which certain states with a history of racial discrimination were required to get federal approval to change voting laws.

Walker, as part of his decision, 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.


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