TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge late Wednesday rejected a push to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline by a week because of Hurricane Michael.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that there was “no justification” for the lawsuit filed by the Florida Democratic Party.
Florida’s deadline to register to vote was Tuesday, 29 days ahead of the Nov. 6 election in the battleground state which features two nationally watched races for governor and U.S. Senate. But many elections office across the Panhandle closed ahead of the fast-moving storm that slammed into the state a day later.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who works directly for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, told local election supervisors that if their offices were closed Tuesday due to the hurricane, then they could accept paper applications on the day their offices reopen.
In his order, Detzner said giving some supervisors this extra day to accept paper registration forms would ensure all offices in the state will be open the same number of days.
But Democrats contended in their lawsuit that Detzner’s solution was inadequate and not equally available to all Floridians. The lawsuit argued that some people who evacuated would be unable to make it back to their local elections offices on the day they reopen. Instead, Democrats asked for a week-long extension.
Hinkle, however, was not persuaded by the argument, saying that the party was seeking to keep registration open in areas that were not impacted by Hurricane Michael.
“Extending the deadline in those parts of the state would not level the playing field or provide a remedy for the hurricane’s effects,” Hinkle wrote in his ruling. “Large numbers of voters register shortly before the deadline, but that happens routinely, with or without a hurricane. A state could set a later deadline or no deadline at all, but that is not the course Florida has chosen.”
Democrats two years ago sued to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline because of the disruption caused by Hurricane Matthew. A judge sided with Democrats and extended the deadline a week.
But a key difference from 2016 is the creation of an online site that allows Floridians to either register or update their registration. Some people on social media complained that they were having trouble accessing the site during the final day, but state officials insisted the problem was intermittent and that the site was never down.
Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said the party was disappointed in the decision and said that Scott should have ordered the deadline extended.
“With widespread reports of malfunctions with the online voter registration website, and a deadly hurricane interrupting life for tens of thousands of Floridians, Rick Scott should have stood up for voting rights and extended the voter registration deadline,” Rizzo said in a statement.
Republican officials this week criticized the lawsuit and said Democrats were “wasting” taxpayer money by filing it.