By Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
Florida Democrats filed a lawsuit Sunday against Gov. Rick Scott asking that the voter registration deadline be extended by a week because of disruptions caused by Hurricane Matthew.
Democrats went to U.S. District Court in Tallahassee and cited Scott’s demand on Thursday that coastal residents flee the approaching storm and his refusal that day to extend the registration deadline beyond Tuesday. The suit seeks a new deadline of Oct. 18.
“Defendant Scott refused to extend the voter registration deadline for the very citizens heeding his orders to evacuate — forcing voters to choose between their safety and the safety of their families, on one hand, and their fundamental right to vote, on the other hand,” the lawsuit states. “Many Floridians who would have registered to vote prior to the Oct. 11 registration deadline have been displaced or otherwise prevented from registering.”
Scott’s office said it was reviewing the lawsuit. On Thursday, Scott flatly rejected calls by Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager to extend the voter registration deadline.
“I’m not going to extend it,” said the Republican governor, who chairs a pro-Donald Trump super PAC. “Everybody has had a lot of time to register. On top of that, we have lots of opportunities to vote: early voting, absentee voting, Election Day. So I don’t intend to make any changes.”
The Democrats’ lawsuit also names Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections official, as a defendant.
“We are reviewing it,” said Detzner’s spokeswoman, Meredith Beatrice.
The lawsuit notes that South Carolina, a state also damaged by Hurricane Matthew, extended its voter registration deadline, and that Georgia, also in Matthew’s path, encouraged more people to register online — an option that is not available in Florida.
In two recent cases, Florida elections deadlines were altered.
After Hurricane Andrew ravaged parts of Miami-Dade in August 1992, a state judge, citing “exceptional circumstances,” delayed the county’s primary election for one week and ordered results in statewide and multi-county races to be sealed until Miami-Dade voted.
In 2008, then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist issued an executive order that extended early voting for two days, citing a “historic” turnout in Barack Obama’s first campaign.
Registering voters is a critical strategic component in the nation’s largest battleground state. Democrats have focused their efforts on young people, African-Americans and Hispanics, especially in the I-4 corridor where many newly-arrived Puerto Ricans identify with the Democratic Party.
Sunday’s action is the second lawsuit Democrats have filed against Scott’s administration in the past week.
The Florida Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee also challenged a state law that allows counties to reject mail ballots if a voter’s signature on a ballot envelope doesn’t match the voter’s signature on file. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 18.