Judge denies Democrats' request for extra relief in processing new voter forms
UPDATE: A federal judge on Thursday rejected the Democratis Party's request for extra relief in processing new voter registration forms. The judge found "absolutely no basis" that the state is deliberately dragging its feet in processing voter forms, and he cited the testimony of a top state elections official and Hillsborough County's top voting official in denying the request.
"There's absolutely no evidence to suggest that the Secretary (of State Ken Detzner) is doing anything other than his job and he's doing it with due diligence," said U.S. District Judge Mark Walker.
Previous report follows:
For the third time in two weeks, Florida Democrats are headed back to a courtroom in Tallahassee, battling Gov. Rick Scott's administration on a voting rights issue.
Democrats are 2-0, having successfully forced the state to count mail ballots with signature flaws and a week-long extension to register voters because of Hurricane Matthew. Round 3, once again before U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, involves newly-registered voters who could get caught in bureaucratic red tape and not be verified by the time early voting begins in most large counties next Monday, Oct. 24.
Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, already the object of sharp criticism from the judge, is once again at the center of controversy. Detzner has vowed that everyone who registered during the extension week (Oct. 12-18) will be verified by Oct. 29, which is the last day that early voting can begin in Florida. That group includes more than 64,000 people.
But Democrats are insisting that the voters all be verified by Sunday in time for the first day that early voting can begin on Monday, including in Miami-Dade, Broward, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Orange and Palm Beach counties -- all counties that favor Democrats and where thousands of new voters have registered.
Voters whose forms aren't yet verified would have to cast provisional ballots that can be verified up to two days after the election. Democrats don't like provisional ballots. They filed an emergency motion in court Wednesday, saying "the consequences ... are severe and may result in the disenfranchisement of these voters" if Detzner's office doesn't get every new voter verified.
The judge approved a request by the League of Women Voters and ordered Maria Matthews, director of the state Division of Elections, to be in court on Thursday morning. The judge also called Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer as a witness.
Republicans will be in court to oppose the Democrats' motion and to argue that those unverified voters should be required to cast provisional ballots. "In addition to changing the rules in the middle of an election, this is dangerous, unprecedented and has the potential to create chaos at the polls," party chairman Blaise Ingoglia said.