By Caitlin Ostroff
After the Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit earlier this week seeking a statewide extension of the voter registration deadline, a federal judge has rejected it, saying "there is no justification."
Given Hurricane Michael's disruption of the last day of voter registration on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott's administration extended the registration deadline by one day, but only in those counties that planned to close all or part of Tuesday because of the hurricane. Democrats called Secretary of State Ken Detzner's one-day proposal insufficient and confusing and said it fails to protect Floridians' voting rights.
If Detzner didn't extend the deadline by a week in the affected areas, the Democrats said, "thousands of eligible voters will be disenfranchised."
The Democrats' lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, the same court that two years ago ordered a six-day extension of the voter registration deadline because of widespread evacuations Scott ordered during Hurricane Matthew. That order was issued two years ago this week by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who wrote: "No right is more precious than having a voice in our democracy."
But in response to the Democrats' suit, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle wrote that extending the deadline would not level the playing field or provide a remedy for the hurricane's effects. He also rejected the idea that there needed to be a statewide extension for all forms of registration, writing "some parts of the state were affected little by the hurricane."
Walker was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama. Hinkle was nominated by President Bill Clinton.
In his order, Hinkle also sought to clarify Detzner's directive, writing that for counties where at least one elections office was closed Tuesday, they must accept paper applications through the first full business day after all offices have reopened.
"Nothing in the directive suggests the secretary intended anything contrary to these understandings. If the secretary asserts these understandings are not correct, or if a supervisor fails to heed the secretary's directive as properly understood, the party of course may renew its motion for a temporary restraining order," Hinkle wrote.
A similar injunction filed by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU and ACLU Florida requesting an extension of the voter registration is also awaiting judgment in federal court. The injunction, filed on behalf of civic engagement groups, advocates extensions due to the hurricane and online registration glitches experienced by some on the registration website.
Though the groups originally sought a weeklong extension statewide, they amended their injunction Thursday, asking for an extension of at least one full business day for paper and online ballots for the 35 counties placed under a state of emergency due to Michael.
(c)2018 Miami Herald