TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A federal appeals court granted Florida’s request to reinstate portions of the state’s election laws on Friday while it appeals a lower court’s decision that the law was aimed at suppressing Black voters.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said that Judge Mark Walker’s March ruling that the law intentionally targeted Black voters was flawed. The three-judge panel said there wasn’t evidence that the law was passed with the intent to discriminate, and issued the stay as an appeal continues.
The law tightens rules on mailed ballots, drop boxes and other popular election methods — changes that made it more difficult for Black voters who, overall, have more socioeconomic disadvantages than white voters, Walker wrote in his ruling.
Florida’s Republican-led legislature joined several others around the country in passing election reforms after Republican former President Donald Trump made unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Democrats have called such reforms a partisan attempt to keep some voters from the ballot box.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis made the election bill a 2021 priority. The state was immediately sued by voting rights groups.
"We are deeply disappointed and disturbed by today’s appeals court decision, putting back in place one of the most restrictive voting rights laws in the country. Let’s be clear, this law undoes the progress that voting rights groups have made and targets the very tools minority communities, like ours, use to increase voter turnout," Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder of Equal Ground, said in a news release.
Much of the debate focused on vote-by-mail ballots and how they are collected and returned. Walker overturned a provision of the law limiting when people could use a drop box to submit their ballot, along with a section prohibiting anyone from engaging with people waiting to vote. Walker said the latter provision "discourages groups who give food, water, and other forms of encouragement to voters waiting in long lines from continuing to do so."
DeSantis predicted after Walker’s ruling that the state would win the case in front of the more conservative appeals court. Walker was appointed by former President Barack Obama. The three judges that issued the stay were appointed by former President Donald Trump, including Barbara Lagoa, who briefly served on the Florida Supreme Court as a DeSantis appointee.