After Hurricane, League of Women Voters Asks Judge to Extend Florida’s Voter Registration Deadline

October 11, 2016

Lawsuit Argues More than 100,000 Could Be Disenfranchised

Florida’s voter registration deadline should be extended to prevent possible disenfranchisement from Hurricane Matthew, the League of Women Voters of Florida argued in a suit filed today.

The storm struck the Sunshine State Friday, four days before its October 11 voter registration deadline. Despite requests from the League and others, Governor Rick Scott said he would not extend the deadline. But on Monday a federal judge prohibited the state from enforcing the deadline and added one day in response to a lawsuit filed by the Florida Democratic Party.

There is a hearing at 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday, October 12 in federal court to determine whether to extend the deadline further.

The Florida League, represented by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and pro bono counsel Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, filed the suit today to argue more time is necessary to ensure Floridians have sufficient time to register, as required by federal law, and to ensure that the Florida League can accomplish its mission of helping as many citizens as possible sign up and make their voices heard this November. Half of the group’s local affiliates had to cancel registration drives because of the storm, including in Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach counties — four of the five most populous counties in the state.

“Our mission is to help every Floridian register, vote, and be heard, and the hurricane should not silence their voices,” said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “Decades of experience tell us that the days leading up to the deadline — including the weekend — are the most crucial part of the registration calendar, and we have lost precious time. We need support now to ensure every citizen can have a say on November 8.”

In past presidential elections, up to 20 percent of all new registrations received in Florida during an election year occurred in the week before the registration deadline. In 2012, more than 150,000 Floridians registered to vote in the nine days leading up to the state deadline. Federal law requires Florida to give voters no less than 30 days before Election Day to obtain and submit a valid voter registration form. But the government agencies needed to facilitate successful registrations were disrupted by the storm. Scott ordered state and county offices in 43 counties to close. Post offices were also shut down late last week as needed, in addition to closures Monday in observance of Columbus Day.

“Floridians should not lose their opportunity to register to vote because of the disruptions from Hurricane Matthew,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Federal law requires the state to provide voters sufficient time to register in the period before the election.”

“We know that there are citizens who intended to register but could not because large swaths of the state needed to be shut down because of the storm,” said Robert A. Atkins, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, representing the plaintiffs, and co-chair of the Center’s Board of Directors. “Federal law protects the opportunity they lost when the storm suspended government services and disrupted so many communities.”