In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, some Georgia residents living along the coast were unable to register to vote before the deadline. However, a federal judge won’t order officials to extend the deadline given that it could throw a “sizable wrench” in the state’s efforts to get ready for the upcoming presidential election. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed this week, which claimed that disruptions caused by the storm made it difficult, and, in some cases, impossible, for people to sign up by the October 11 deadline. Other states affected by Matthew — Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina — have extended deadlines in counties hit by the hurricane. The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, accused Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Secretary of State Brian Kemp of infringing upon residents’ right to vote by refusing to extend the deadline. The storm interfered with voter registration drives, leaving African-Americans disproportionately affected by the state’s refusal to extend the deadline, the lawsuit claimed.
“Gov. Deal’s refusal to do the right thing by simply extending the deadline means thousands of Georgians will be disenfranchised in November,” said Kathleen Burch, interim counsel for the ACLU of Georgia. “Protecting the right to vote is not a political stunt, nor a partisan effort. Our state’s elected leaders should be protecting that right, not undermining it. This is a travesty to the people of Georgia and to the democratic process. We are exploring possible legal next steps.”
Georgia has six coastal counties that are home to more than half a million people. Deal ordered those residents to evacuate on October 6 — five days before the deadline to sign up to vote in the November election. According to the ACLU lawsuit, the week ahead of the deadline has typically been one of the busiest periods for voter registration.
The ACLU lawsuit came on the heels of similar lawsuit filed last week by the Lawyers’ Committee of Civil Rights Under Law. In response to that suit, Moore Jr. ordered Deal and Kemp to extend the deadline for Chatham County — one of the six counties along Georgia’s coast. The county’s board of elections, which closed ahead of the storm, did not reopen until after the day after the voter registration deadline.