Courts rule against two major GOP attempts to block people from voting


Courts reject Republican voter suppression efforts in Florida and South Carolina.

Republican attempts to make voting more difficult in Florida and South Carolina faced major setbacks over the weekend as separate courts ruled in favor of challenges to GOP voter suppression efforts.

On Sunday, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled against a law backed by Florida Republicans aimed at forcing former felons to pay for the right to vote.

After Florida voters passed a ballot measure in 2018 to restore voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentences, Republicans responded with a law requiring that former felons, regardless of their financial situation, must pay all outstanding fines and legal fees before being allowed to vote.

Hinkle wrote that legislators "cannot condition voting on payment of amounts a person is unable to pay," calling it a "pay-to-vote system."

During closing arguments in the trial, Hinkle had noted that all Republican lawmakers voted for the law and all Democratic lawmakers voted against the law, which, he said, was "not a coincidence."

"It would be stunning if somebody told me that they did not realize that African Americans tend to vote Democratic," Hinkle said.

Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, celebrated the decision, saying in an email on Monday, "American Democracy and the people of Florida had a victory this weekend."

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs blocked a South Carolina law that would have forced absentee ballots to be signed by a witness, even during the coronavirus pandemic, in response to arguments against the law made by Democratic and civil rights groups.

Childs wrote that voters are living through the "worst pandemic this state, country, and planet has seen in over a century" and said forcing voters with confirmed cases of the coronavirus to find a witness to sign their absentee ballot is not "in the best interests of the public during a pandemic of this nature," as it would expose "the witness and whoever comes in contact with the witness" to the virus.

"During this pandemic, absentee voting is the safest tool through which voters can use to effectuate their fundamental right to vote," Childs wrote.

One state has already witnessed the repercussions of Republicans forcing people to vote in person during a pandemic.

Republican lawmakers and conservative justices in Wisconsin forced voters to go to the polls for the state's April 7 primary, and, in cases that officials say could be related to that in-person voting, at least 67 people tested positive for the coronavirus afterwards, including some poll workers.

In Texas, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton fought an effort to allow any voter in the state who wanted one to request an absentee ballot, and argued that expanding safe access to voting "damages the integrity of our elections and increases the risk of voter fraud."

Donald Trump has also falsely claimed that absentee voting is linked to fraud, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support the claim.

Democrats, by contrast, have tried to make voting safer.

In Texas, the state Democratic Party launched an effort to enable voter registration at home, although the state does not allow online voter registration. Texas residents can go to the website to check their registration status or begin the registration process. The state Democratic Party will mail a pre-filled registration form to them with a postage-paid envelope to mail the form to their local registrar.

In Congress, Democrats introduced the VoteSafe Act, a bill that would require states to offer no-excuse absentee voting and ensure that they all ensure at least 20 days of early voting.

"We must make sure the pandemic does not impede full, unfettered access to the ballot box," Rep. Marcia Fudge, one of the lead sponsors of the bill, said in a press release.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.