A federal judge Wednesday ordered the deadline for registering to vote in Florida extended through Oct. 18 because of disruption stemming from Hurricane Matthew.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker sided with lawyers for the Florida Democratic Party and other groups, who argued at a hearing in Tallahassee that thousands of potential voters — many of them minorities or newly naturalized citizens — risked losing the opportunity to register if more days were not added.
“There is no right more precious than having a voice in our election,” Walker concluded.
While Hurricane Matthew was raging off Florida’s east coast, the Florida Democratic Party last week unsuccessfully urged Gov. Rick Scott to extend the state’s Oct. 11. Scott refused, saying Floridians already had plenty of time to register.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker granted the Florida Democratic Party’s request for a court order lifting Tuesday’s deadline, arguing that Hurricane Matthew likely kept many Floridians from registering last week.
Walker also has set a hearing for Wednesday, presumably to determine if any more time is needed.
The Hillary Clinton campaign and state Democrats had pushed Gov. Rick Scott to add more days for registering because of the disruption caused by Hurricane Matthew. Scott refused saying, “everybody’s had a lot of time to register.”
In a conference call with reporters, Detzner said that no significant problems were being reported by the state’s 67 elections supervisors. Perhaps the most notable situation came in Miami Beach, where a polling place at the city’s botanical garden had to be moved a block away to City Hall, because mosquito-spraying was underway linked to the state’s outbreak of Zika virus.
While 1.2 million mail-in ballots combined with 538,000 early voters to put Florida’s primary returns ahead of the past two election cycles at this time, Detzner said he wasn’t predicting any kind of record turnout. The percent of voters casting ballots in the late-summer primary has ranged between 18 percent and 22 percent over the past decade, records show.
“It’s too premature for us to conclude any final turnout numbers,” he said.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. in both the state’s eastern and central time zones and remain open until 7 p.m. Results will start being reported by the state’s Division of Elections after polls close at 7 p.m. CDT — an hour later than when polls shut in the east.
With rain, wind and possible flooding threatening Florida by early next week, Gov. Rick Scott and state elections officials joined the chorus of local supervisors urging voters to take advantage of early voting.
The state’s primary elections are Tuesday. And Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner said voters would be wise to vote ahead of that date.
The National Hurricane Center expects the weather to hold until early Sunday. But after that, it’s uncertain what kind of tropical system could be over the Sunshine State.
“While it is too premature to determine if voters will be impacted by adverse weather conditions, I encourage all Florida voters who have not voted by mail to get ahead of any possible weather disturbances by voting early,” Detzner said. “All 67 Florida counties are offering early voting through Saturday, August 27.”
Palm Beach County is among 10 counties also allowing voting on Sunday.
Alex Barrio, a former legislative staffer is running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, now a candidate for a state Senate seat. Barrio is expected to face Torres’ daughter, Amy Mercado, in the Aug. 31 Democratic primary.
But Monday, Barrio was the first candidate in a modest line of hopefuls when Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the opening of qualifying just as the clock turned to noon.
“It’s my first time running. But I’ve worked in the process, and I’ve worked on a lot of campaigns in Orlando going back to 2004,” Barrio said. “I thought it would be pretty cool and exciting, first time and be the first one in line and just get it done and make it official.”