Florida court’s preclearance ruling rests on shaky foundation

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Recently, a federal court declared unconstitutional three commonsense election integrity measures passed in Florida and signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis. The court found the three reforms to be acts of intentional racial discrimination on the part of not just one legislator, but the entire legislature.

Worse yet, as a remedy for the alleged discrimination, the court placed Florida under the strictures of preclearance—an unprecedented, unnecessary, and outdated measure that will prohibit Florida from passing almost any new law or regulation governing its elections for the next decade—or at least until the ruling is overturned on appeal. 

The court’s attempts to justify its ruling were at best illogical, and at worst, grounded in partisan political ideology rather than the law. Let’s look at the three measures themselves, and the leaps the court took to try to justify its ruling:

The court argued that Florida’s rules enhancing drop box security were unconstitutional. 

The court ruled that continuous monitoring of drop boxes whenever they are accessible to the public and limiting their availability to certain hours to ease the burden on election officials constitute “intentional race discrimination.” To arrive at that conclusion the court took a long and winding path—288 pages long to be precise—beginning with Florida’s “grotesque history of racial discrimination” in the 1800s and ending with a philosophical examination of the socioeconomic disparity plaguing Florida, at least in the eyes of the plaintiff’s “expert” witnesses. 

One of the most scathing examples of historical racism offered by the court was the legislature’s effort in 2018 to require felons to pay off all fines they owe to the state before their voting rights could be restored. Since this requirement impacted black felons more than white felons according to the court, it constituted evidence of a racist intent on the part of the legislature. 

Reasonable people can strongly disagree with the court’s finding, believing that requiring all felons regardless of their race to pay their fines before regaining their eligibility to vote has nothing to do with race, and is no different than requiring them to serve their full sentence. But the court found an “indisputable pattern” of racial discrimination in this commonsense reform.

The court ruled that requiring third-party voter registration groups to deliver registration applications to certain locations in a defined timeframe and to provide voters with a warning before collecting a registration application were unconstitutional.

Finding that these third-party groups register a much higher percentage of minority voters than they do white voters, the court concluded that placing rules on these groups would unfairly impact minority voters. But this requirement wouldn’t inhibit groups from helping voters at all, no matter what their race happens to be. 

Instead, it would merely require that these groups provide voters with some basic information about who they are so that voters can be better informed and require the groups to deliver registrations to the state at a time and place that would promote efficiency and ease the burden on local election officials. Reasonable people can conclude that if greater disclosure requirements cause voters to trust these groups less than they otherwise would then the problem might not be the disclaimer rule requirement, but rather the groups themselves.

The court ruled that prohibiting activity with the intent to influence voters inside a polling place or within 150 feet of a drop box or the entrance to any polling place was unconstitutional.

According to the court, this would discourage people from handing out food and water to voters waiting in line, and this would have a disparate impact on black voters. 

However, this finding ignores reality and the plain language of the statute itself. Nothing in the law would discourage honest people from engaging in “line-warming” activity, and the law’s requirement that there be an “intent” to improperly influence a voter would keep innocent people who “accidently” influence a voter while providing them with free food and other handouts from running afoul of the law. Voters standing in line waiting to cast their vote should find a protective bubble around polling places where they can be free from harassment as they wait their turn to vote. This rule would help provide that protection in a reasonable and fair way, while still allowing voters to receive the free food and water these groups so desperately yearn to provide.

BOTTOM LINE

All three of these findings are wrong and run afoul of the governing precedent of the Eleventh Circuit, where this decision is being appealed, and ultimately, where it will be overturned. 

In the end, the court’s findings create a legal presumption that any time Republicans pass commonsense election rules that make it harder to cheat, they are invariably discriminatory, but if Democrats do the same, they are not. Such a legal presumption, though certainly beneficial to the Left, could never survive judicial review. This ruling is sure to be reversed.