In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, residents still struggling to return to their homes and assess the damage are facing another challenge: registering to vote before it’s too late. Nowhere is the issue more acute than in Florida, where a fight to extend that deadline has turned bitterly partisan and litigious. Some 1.5 million Floridians were placed under evacuation last week as the Category 4 hurricane bore down on the state’s coast, closing down county and state government services. After Gov. Rick Scott (R) refused to extend Tuesday’s deadline to register, a federal judge ruled against him, extending it at least until Wednesday and rebuking Scott’s decision as “irrational,” “nonsensical” and “poppycock.” “These voters have already had their lives (and, quite possibly, their homes) turned up-side down by Hurricane Matthew,” U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker wrote. “They deserve a break, especially one that is mandated by the United States Constitution.”
Even as he was pleading desperately for people to flee Matthew, Scott steadfastly refused to extend the voter registration deadline. On Sunday, the Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit asking the federal courts to intervene before the deadline passed.
Leaders in other states hard hit by the storm have taken steps to minimize the effect on voting. In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has extended the state’s registration deadline to allow paperwork to be postmarked by Tuesday. And in Georgia, voters can register electronically, an option not available to Florida residents. In North Carolina, where saturated rivers are forcing thousands from their homes, newly restored rules that were nearly taken away by Republicans will allow voters who miss the deadline to register during early voting.
But with many of that state’s eastern counties struggling with still-rising floodwaters, it remains unclear what effect the storm could have on polling places and displaced residents. The North Carolina State Board of Elections said Monday it was still trying to assess possible damage and effects.