SB90 contains many features, all designed to discourage people from voting. But not just anybody. Mostly classes of citizens who tend to vote Democratic. Like Blacks. Like Hispanics. Like the poor.
You wouldn’t know that was the goal by listening to the legislation’s sponsors. Indeed, they say it is so we can be assured our elections are secure, apparently not like the 2020 one where the “legitimate” winner of the Presidency did not get to take office.
This despite the fact that Republicans had declared the 2020 election the best in Florida’s checkered history. And despite the fact that most of the election shenanigans making the news were perpetrated by Republicans!
So what are the main features that SB90 imposes?
- Restricts the number and available hours of drop boxes (now ridiculously called “secure ballot intake stations”) where voters can deposit ballots that otherwise would have to be returned by mail
- Forces voter registration organizations like the League of Women Voters to announce, when registering an individual, that they cannot guarantee the registration will be returned to the Supervisor of Election’s office in time, despite there never having been a problem in the past.
- Prohibits offering water or other refreshments to voters standing in line in the hot Florida sun as they wait to cast their ballots.
- Requires registering to receive mail ballots every two years instead of four and necessitates identifying information like a driver’s license number or the last few digits of a social security number, supposedly to allow verification of the ballot.
SB90 joins a host of measures, passed by our Republican dominated legislature and signed by a Republican tyrannical governor, that everyone knew would wind up in the courts. The state then hires lawyers at well over $600 per hour (for each one) to defend the indefensible. Isn’t that a better way to spend our tax dollars than, say, affordable housing, improved mental health systems, or increased Medicaid?
And so it was with SB90. The day the governor signed it into law the League of Women Voters of Florida and other plaintiffs sued. The trial before federal Circuit Judge Mark E. Walker was held in February of this year. Judge Walker recently issued his opinion. Two hundred and eighty-eight pages of it!
He was not kind to the defendants.
His opinion has been reported extensively on local and national media and by several columnists and bloggers including Heather Cox Richardson in her March 31 offering (a column I recommend reading).
A few of the points made in Walker’s decision are
- This case is about the sacred right to vote
- The right to vote and the VRA [Voting Rights Act] are under siege
- It might be difficult to look at SB90 alone and determine, as the plaintiffs maintain, that it is racist
- Unless you trace out the history of Florida with regard to race and then SB90 seems to be another in a long list of attempts to deny the vote to those who typically vote against the party in power
- Thus the overall goal is suppression of the Black vote to rig the election in favor of Republicans
- This is important because differences in political power create differences in economic and social power
In short, he declared most of SB90 unconstitutional, a great victory for the plaintiffs and, I might add, to anyone believing in fair election results.
Walker wasn’t done simply because he had dealt with SB90. Startling most, he further decreed that for the next ten years Florida must receive permission from the court before making any additional voting changes.
Judge Walker was appointed by President Obama, a fact mentioned by the irate Republicans in the state. Governor DeSantis, acting like the spoiled child that he is, blustered that the verdict will be reversed as the state, spending that $600 plus per hour for each lawyer, appeals.
Unfortunately, I fear he may be right. The next step is the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, one of the most conservative in the country. Then after that is the United States Supreme Court, and we all know what that is like these days.
But for now, for whatever brief time we have, we can rejoice that there is at least one judge who believes in democracy and common sense.