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League of Women Voters of Florida v. Scott

The Brennan Center, along with co-counsel Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, represented the League of Women Voters of Florida in a lawsuit seeking to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. On October 12, a federal judge issued an order extending the registration deadline to Tuesday, October 18.

Published: May 15, 2017

On Wednesday, October 12, a federal judge extended Florida’s voter registration deadline due to disruptions caused by Hurricane Matthew.  Widespread storm damage prompted voting rights groups and others to request an extension, but the state refused to change the deadline. The Brennan Center, along with co-counsel Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, filed suit representing the League of Women Voters of Florida.

With over 1.5 million Floridians under evacuation orders, Hurricane Matthew battered the state on Friday, October 7 – just four days before the October 11 registration deadline. Schools and government offices, including motor vehicle offices and other agencies that are required by law to offer voter registration services, were closed throughout much of the state on Thursday, October 6 and Friday, October 7.  At its height, more than one million residents lacked power, and 175,000 were still without electricity on the morning of Monday, October 10.

On Sunday, October 9, the Florida Democratic Party filed suit in federal court against Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner to extend the registration deadline. On Monday, October 10, Judge Mark Walker prohibited the state from enforcing the deadline and added one day in response the lawsuit. Judge Walker also scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, October 12 to determine whether to extend the deadline further.

On Tuesday, October 11, the Florida League filed suit to argue that more time was necessary to ensure Floridians had sufficient time to register, as required by federal law, and to ensure that the organization could 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. On Wednesday, October 12, Judge Walker consolidated the League’s case with the Democratic Party’s suit. 

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 Governor Scott ordered state and county offices in 43 counties to close, shuttering the government agencies needed to facilitate successful registrations. Post offices were also shut down as needed, and they remained closed on Monday, October 10 in observance of Columbus Day. In addition, Hurricane Matthew postponed the naturalization ceremonies of many soon-to-be citizens to dates after the October 11 registration deadline, preventing them from exercising their newfound voting rights in this November’s election.

These registration drive cancellations and government office closures had a particularly large impact due to their close proximity to the registration deadline. In past presidential elections, up to 20% of all new registrations received in 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.

Following an October 12 hearing, Judge Walker issued an order extending the registration deadline to Tuesday, October 18. This deadline enabled the League to reschedule the drives they were forced to cancel, and preserves the opportunity to register to vote for Floridians who might have otherwise faced disenfranchisement through no fault of their own.

On October 18, the Florida Democratic Party filed a motion to enforce the October 12 Order with additional measures out of concern that some registrations would not be processed in time for the start of early voting. At a hearing on October 20, Judge Walker issued an order denying that motion.

Court Documents

Orders from the Court 

League of Women Voters of Florida v. Scott

Florida Democratic Party v. Scott