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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

ACLU, League of Women Voters want voter deadline extended



The American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters have petitioned a federal judge in Tallahassee to extend Florida's voter registration deadline for one extra week, until next Tuesday, because of the turmoil surrounding Hurricane Matthew.

Both groups filed papers Tuesday in U.S. District Court on the eve of a hearing by Judge Mark Walker, who ordered the registration deadline extended one day, through Wednesday, on a request by the Florida Democratic Party, which wants the deadline extended at least until next Tuesday, Oct. 18.

The ACLU of Florida filed a motion to intervene on behalf of two South Florida voting rights groups, New Florida Majority and Mi Familia Vota. They want to join the lawsuit as plaintiffs because they engage in third-party voter registration efforts.

The League of Women Voters is seeking an emergency motion to extend the registration deadline to Oct. 18. The group cited the case of Lilly Paez, 28, of Coral Gables, a native of Costa Rica who has lived legally in Florida for 14 years and was scheduled to be naturalized on Oct. 8, just in time to be able to register to vote to cast a ballot in the election.

"Due to Hurricane Matthew, her naturalization ceremony was postponed by a full week," the League's court filing said. "Unless the registration deadline is extended, she will now be unable to vote in the upcoming election."

Several other naturalization ceremonies are scheduled after Wednesday, the League said -- too late for new citizens to register.

"With a total of 43 counties closing state and county offices on Oct. 7, motor vehicle and elections offices were shuttered," said the League's memorandum, filed by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's law school. "With all mechanisms for voter registration effectively suspended for days, aspiring voters who planned to register in person for much of last week were blocked. Extending the voter registration deadline to make up for the days lost to Hurricane Matthew is the only way for the state of Florida to comply with NVRA (National Voter Registration Act, also known as the "motor voter" law) and protect the right to vote for thousands of eligible applicants."

Both groups listed Gov. Rick Scott as a defendant. But Walker dropped Scott as a party to the case after concluding that state law does not give the governor specific authority to extend the voter registration deadline. The other defendant is Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

"According to the judge, Florida law does not allow for the state to extend the voter registration deadline," Scott's office said. "The state will follow the court's decision and discuss with the Legislature possible amendments to current law during the upcoming legislative session."

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2016 8:53am]


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