Hurricane Matthew Called Florida’s Bluff on Voter Registration

By extending its registration deadline for one week, Florida ended up with more than 100,000 new voters.

Florida governor Rick Scott (C) speaks to the meida as he visits a damaged beach in St Augustine, Florida, on October 8, 2016, after Hurricane Matthew passed the area.Hurricane Matthew weakened to a Category 1 storm Saturday as it neared the end of a four-day rampage that left a trail of death and destruction across the Caribbean and up the US Atlantic coast. The full scale of the devastation in hurricane-hit rural Haiti became clear as the death toll surged past 400, three days after Hurricane Matthew leveled huge swaths of the country's south. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Florida governor Rick Scott speaks to the media as he visits a damaged beach in St Augustine, Florida, on Oct. 8, 2016, after Hurricane Matthew passed the area. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

As Hurricane Matthew closed in on the Florida coast in early October, Democrats called on Republican Governor Rick Scott to extend the state’s voter registration deadline to allow those affected by the storm to access the ballot box. But Scott and his supporters resisted, arguing that extending the state’s deadline past October 11 would violate state law and cause administrative problems ahead of the election. To Democrats, Scott’s stance was in line with previous Republican-led efforts to erect barriers to voting that have disproportionately affected minority populations in the state.

But a federal judge overruled Scott, ordering the state to extend its deadline by an entire week, to October 18. The resulting extra seven days saw a flood of more than 100,000 additional voter registrations in Florida — new voters who otherwise would have been shut out of this year’s election. And this doesn’t appear to have caused widespread hardship to the state’s election officials. In response to questions from The Intercept, the Florida Divisions of Elections did not report significant difficulty in processing the applications. A spokesperson said that roughly 20,000 applications, said to contain incomplete or faulty information, were still pending processing, which reportedly is consistent the non-verification rate in years past. As of October 28, the state had successfully processed the registrations of 107,085 of the voters who submitted applications during the extension period.

To voting rights advocates, the court order and the broad success of the extra week of registration in enfranchising more than 100,000 Floridians underscored the contention that voter registration deadlines that fall weeks before an election are unnecessary, and can be understood as a form of voter suppression.

“This is just a display that it sometimes takes people a longer time to register because of whatever circumstances are going on in their lives,” Nancy Abudu, the director of legal operations at the ACLU of Florida, told The Intercept. “We have to try to accommodate as many people and as many lifestyles as possible—as many work, personal, and professional demands as possible.”

A study examining Google search patterns suggested that early registration deadlines may have disenfranchised 3 to 4 million people across the country during the 2012 presidential election. The ACLU and other voting groups have advocated for same-day registration, a policy already approved in more than a dozen states, allowing residents to register and vote on election day.

“It’s doable,” Abudu says, “it’s just a matter of whether there’s the political will to do it.”

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