Judge rules that restrictions on after-hour drop boxes don't keep Floridians from voting

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Restrictions on after-hour drop boxes may make it inconvenient to return ballots outside business hours, but they don't keep Floridians from voting, a federal judge has ruled.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker previously had ruled that restrictions in Florida's 2021 election law would have suppressed Black voters, but parts of that decision were overturned by an appellate court and sent back to the Tallahassee judge to reconsider. Walker made his latest ruling last Thursday.

Often sounding conflicted about how to respond to the appellate court decision, Walker said in his latest ruling that the voting rights groups that had challenged Florida's election law failed to show that the restrictions on drop boxes unduly burdened voters. The judge also said that restrictions in the law on third-party voter registration groups also failed to be proven unduly burdensome.

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.

Florida's election law tightened rules on mailed ballots, drop boxes and other popular election methods. The changes made it more difficult for Black voters who, overall, have more socioeconomic disadvantages than white voters, Walker wrote in his original March 2022 ruling.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said last April that Walker’s ruling was flawed and that evidence did not show that lawmakers deliberately targeted Black voters.

Drop boxes are considered by many election officials to be safe and secure and have been used to varying degrees by states across the political spectrum with few problems. A survey by The Associated Press of state election officials across the United States found no cases of fraud, vandalism or theft related to drop boxes in the 2020 presidential election that could have affected the results.

In many cases, drop boxes are placed in locations where they can be monitored by election staff or security cameras. Local election offices typically have procedures to ensure the security of the ballots from the time they are retrieved until they arrive at the election office.