Court Extends Florida Voter Registration Deadline After Hurricane, Updated

A federal judge in Florida extended the deadline for residents to register to vote in the 2016 election though today at 5 PM. The extension came as an emergency measure after Hurricane Matthew passed through the state, making it difficult to impossible for prospective voters to meet the original deadline.

UPDATE: On October 12, voter registration was extended through October 18.
UPDATE: More that 100,000 people rushed to register during the extended period.

The court is holding a full hearing on the legal and Constitutional issues involved in the case, and could extend the deadline further.

In the State of Florida, history has shown that more than 100,000 new voters register in the last week before an election — overwhelmingly Democratic. Much of that final week was taken up by Hurricane Matthew, a state of emergency, and closure of post offices.

Republican Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner were named defendants in the lawsuit. Before the storm, Rick Scott warned, “This storm will kill you.” The Florida Democratic Party sued. Its complaint described his statements:

On Thursday, October 6, Defendant Scott unambiguously ordered Florida citizens to “evacuate, evacuate, evacuate” the areas in Hurricane Matthew’s path. “There are no excuses. You need to leave,” he told Floridians. “This storm will kill you. Time is running out.”

Despite the dangers and the storm damage, Rick Scott would not budge.

Plaintiff brings this lawsuit because Defendants have refused to take any action to protect the voting rights of Florida citizens who, due to Hurricane Matthew, cannot register to vote by the upcoming October 11 registration deadline…

Defendant Scott dismissed the ramifications of his refusal to extend the deadline, stating, “Look, this is, this is politics.”

Governor Rick Scott also said, “We have lots of opportunities to vote: early voting, absentee voting, Election Day. So, I don’t intend to make any changes.” These all assume a person is already registered.

Democratic appointee Mark E. Walker wrote the decision. The court looked at the right to vote and compared it to reasons that the state would insist on keeping the deadline solid applying various historical precedents on voting law.

This case pits the fundamental right to vote against administrative convenience…

Florida’s statutory framework completely disenfranchises thousands of voters, and amounts to a severe burden on the right to vote …

Many other states, for example, either extended their voting registration deadlines in the wake of Hurricane Matthew or already allow voter registration on Election Day. There is no reason Florida could not do the same …

Quite simply, it is wholly irrational in this instance for Florida to refuse to extend the voter registration deadline when the state already allows the Governor to suspend or move the election date due to an unforeseen emergency.

The court also found that Rick Scott did not have the power to extend election registration.

And in the event of an emergency or disaster, the Governor is authorized to suspend or delay any election [under state law]. That does not imply the Governor is authorized to extend the voter registration. In fact, it implies the opposite. (Quotes and citations omitted)

The court found the law likely to be unconstitutional.

Of course, the State of Florida has the ability to set its own deadline and has an interest in maintaining those deadlines. But it would be nonsensical to prioritize those deadlines over the right to vote, especially given the circumstances here. Other states ravished by Hurricane Matthew extended their registration deadline to protect voters. Fifteen other states] even allow registration on Election Day. It is incomprehensible that Florida could not…

Finally, the injunction is undoubtedly in the public interest. The Constitution guarantees the right of voters to cast their ballots and have them counted. Cementing unconstitutional obstacles to that right strike at the heart of representative government.

These voters have already had their lives (and quite possible, their homes) turned upside down by Hurricane Matthew. They deserve a break, especially one that is mandated by the United States Constitution. (Quotes and citations omitted)

The court then ordered the temporary emergency extension. Tomorrow, the parties will be back in court to argue for a permanent solution. The court could either extend the deadline a few more days or leave it alone.