Judge gives Florida voters more time to
register after hurricane
Send a link to a friend
[October 13, 2016]
By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - Florida residents were given
six extra days to register to vote in the Nov. 8 election by a U.S.
judge on Wednesday following the disruption triggered by powerful
Hurricane Matthew in the state last week.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee extended the registration
deadline to Oct. 18 after the Florida Democratic Party sued to seek more
time. The original deadline to register had been Tuesday, before Walker
ordered a one-day reprieve to allow for a hearing on Wednesday.
Florida Democrats had argued that voters were forced to decide between
their safety and their right to vote when Republican Governor Rick Scott
ordered evacuations along a stretch of the state's Atlantic coast as
"No right is more precious than having a voice in our democracy," Walker
wrote in a three-page court ruling on the lawsuit.
Florida is a battleground state in the Nov. 8 presidential election
pitting Democrat Hillary Clinton against Republican Donald Trump, with
opinion polls showing a close race there. It is the largest of the hotly
contested states whose populations can swing either to Republicans or
Democrats and thus play a decisive role.
The powerful hurricane, which killed around 1,000 people in Haiti as it
churned through the Caribbean, is blamed for at least 30 deaths in
Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. North Carolina now
faces flooding from swollen rivers.
In its complaint, the Florida Democratic Party alleged that the state's
refusal to extend the voter registration deadline would have a
"decidedly partisan effect," noting that populations that lean
Democratic, including minorities and younger voters, register in greater
numbers just before the deadline.
It also noted that areas affected by Matthew have substantial
populations of black and Latino voters who would be disproportionately
likely to register to vote at the last minute.
[to top of second column]
In past presidential years, up to 20 percent of all new
registrations in Florida were filed during the week before the
deadline, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York
University School of Law, which helped bring the lawsuit.
"While we wish it had not taken a lawsuit to get the Scott
administration to do the right thing, today's ruling is a major
victory for all Floridians and for the democratic process in the
Sunshine State," the state Democratic Party said in a statement.
The judge earlier ruled that Florida law did not give Scott
authority to extend voter registration and that he was not a proper
party to the case.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Scott appointee also named
in the lawsuit, was empowered to do so, Walker noted.
"The State will follow the courtís decision and discuss with the
Legislature possible amendments to current law," Scott's office said
in a statement earlier in the week.
South Carolina extended its registration deadline due to Matthew
from Oct. 7 to Oct. 11, while Georgia declined to do so.
North Carolina will not extend the regular deadline to register to
vote, which ends on Friday, although allowances will be made for
delayed mail delivery of registration forms, state officials said on
Wednesday. However, those who miss the deadline can still register
and vote on the same day during the statewide early voting period
from Oct. 20 through Nov. 5.
(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Alistair Bell and
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.