Florida Democrats filed an emergency motion in federal court in Tallahassee on Tuesday to force the state to extend its voter registration deadline by a week as Hurricane Michael, likely to make landfall Wednesday as a Category 3 storm, barrels toward the state.
The state’s official voter registration deadline is Tuesday. But on Monday, Florida Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner (R) told local election officials they could accept paper registrations the day their offices reopened if they had to close them because of the storm.
Voters in Florida can also register online until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, an option that wasn’t available in 2016. Detzner, who is an appointee of Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), said in his directive that the deadline to register online wouldn’t change.
Florida is being watched as a key state during the midterm elections. Scott is challenging Democrat Bill Nelson for his U.S. Senate seat in what is expected to be a tight race. The governor’s race is also expected to be close ― Democrat Andrew Gillum, who is running against Ron DeSantis, could be the state’s first black governor. There’s also a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would automatically restore voting rights to people with felony convictions who complete their sentences ― a measure that could affect around 1.5 million people.
In their filing, lawyers for the Florida Democratic Party said Detzner’s plan was “insufficient and confusing.”
Voters who evacuate because of the storm, they said, may not be able to make it back in just one day to deliver their forms to their local registrar’s office. They also said potential voters who were affected by the storm could be unfairly prevented from registering to vote if their local election official decided to keep their office open in spite of the storm. And they pointed out Detzner’s instructions did not clarify if election officials could accept mail-in applications that were postmarked after Tuesday.
Thousands of eligible Florida voters who are complying with evacuation requests and preparing for the storm may not have the opportunity to register to vote as a result of Hurricane Michael. Terrie Rizzo, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party
The Democratic lawyers also wrote that people affected by internet and power outages because of the storm couldn’t register online. Voters without a Florida driver’s license, state ID card or Social Security number can register online, but are still required to print out and mail in their applications. Detzner’s order did not clarify what would happen to their applications. There have also been some reports of people having difficulty accessing the state website to register.
“This limited, confusing, and inconsistent solution is not sufficient to adequately protect the voting rights of Floridians,” the lawyers wrote. “A limited, one-day extension applied arbitrarily across Florida is no solution at all.”
Scott has declared a state of emergency in over two dozen counties ahead of the storm. As of Monday, three counties in Florida had ordered mandatory evacuations.
“Governor Scott is focused on keeping Floridians safe as a major hurricane rapidly approaches our state,” John Tupps, a Scott spokesman, said in a statement. “Last night, the Governor directed the extension of the voter registration deadline for Supervisors of Elections who are forced to close because of Hurricane Michael.”
“This means that each county will have the same amount of days to register voters,” he added. “The Governor believes that every eligible voter should be able to register to vote and Floridians can go online right now to do so. In fact, nearly 10,000 people have registered to vote online since midnight.”
A coalition of civil rights groups also wrote to Detzner on Tuesday urging him to extend the deadline.
“Thousands of eligible Florida voters who are complying with evacuation requests and preparing for the storm may not have the opportunity to register to vote as a result of Hurricane Michael,” Terrie Rizzo, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Governor Scott and Secretary Detzner have failed to adequately protect the rights of these eligible voters, and should extend the deadline one week in light of Hurricane Michael.”
Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, called the midterms “the election of our lifetime” and said he supported the bid to extend the registration window.
Florida faced a similar situation in 2016, as Hurricane Matthew hit the state around its voter registration deadline. A federal judge extended the cutoff by a week, a decision that allowed over 108,000 people to register.