Florida’s Election Laws Strengthened by Appeals Court

On Thursday, a federal appeals court upheld a statute that added security safeguards to the use of drop boxes and placed limitations on casting votes by mail in the sunshine state of Florida, among other changes to election regulations.

In a two-year legal battle, the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit overturned a lower court’s decision invalidating a law passed by Florida’s Republican-majority legislature in 2021, mainly siding with Florida’s GOP lawmakers.

By adding identification requirements for voting by mail (including name, address, and date of birth), monitoring requirements for ballot drop boxes by election administrators, limiting the use of ballot drop boxes in specific locations, identification requirements for voter registration updates, requirements for third-party voter registration organizations, and placing restrictions on the use of private funds for election-related purposes, this law modified Florida’s election administration rules.

Additionally, it made it unlawful for anyone to approach a voter within 150 feet of a polling place, drop-off location, or early voting location to help them cast a ballot.

On May 6, 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the legislation into law, praising it as a move to improve election security and transparency. On the same day, Florida state officials were sued by the League of Woman Voters of Florida, a political advocacy group, seeking a judicial injunction on the law’s enforcement.

District Judge Mark Walker, appointed by Obama, favored the League of Women Voters in 2022. Walker ruled that the lawmakers had discriminated against Black voters and overturned most of the law’s provisions. Walker is also the judge in the Disney v. DeSantis court case.

According to Walker, the statute is the glaring effects of a political system that has overrepresented White Floridians and underrepresented Black people for well over a century. Walker also noted that Florida has a history of maintaining its voter records in a discriminatory manner.

Walker subsequently ruled that Florida officials must seek court approval before passing any laws pertaining to ballot drop boxes, voter solicitation at the polls, and regulation of third-party voter registration organizations within ten years of his finding.

The appeals court was in opposition.

In a 2-1 decision on Thursday, the appeals court stated that it believed the conclusions of deliberate racial discrimination were supported by both legally flawed and patently false findings of fact.

The appeals court reasoned that Walker erred in assuming that evidence of past racism serves as proof of present-day intent and that prior legal precedents do not grant an unrestricted ability to look back on previous prejudice.

According to Pryor, this history cannot support a judgment of discriminatory intent in this case based on our precedent. Florida’s more recent history does not support a judgment of discriminatory intent.

Bush appointed Chief Judge William Pryor cast the deciding vote and provide the majority opinion. Trump appointee Judge Britt Grant cast a vote in favor. Obama appointee Judge Pryor voiced dissent.

The appeals court changed the lower court’s ruling that the bill’s sections relating to drop-box, solicitation, and registration-delivery provisions are unconstitutional. It overturned the lower court’s decision mandating that the state obtain preclearance before changing its election laws. The court partially upheld the lower court’s conclusion that the law’s solicitation requirement is unconstitutionally ambiguous. Per this opinion, it then sent the case back to the lower court.

The Florida League of Women Voters expressed disappointment with the appeal court’s decision in a statement published on Twitter on Thursday.

In a post on Twitter on Thursday, Jeffrey Clark, a former acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division under the Trump administration, welcomed the appellate court’s decision as a significant victory for Florida’s election integrity.