A federal judge has rejected a request from the Florida Democratic Party to force the state to extend a voter-registration deadline because of Hurricane Michael.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle turned down the party's request for a temporary restraining order to extend the registration deadline to Oct. 16, a week later than the original Tuesday deadline. The party contended an extension was needed because the hurricane, which devastated parts of the Panhandle on Wednesday, could prevent people from registering to vote in the Nov. 6 election.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner this week issued a directive authorizing county elections supervisors whose offices were closed Tuesday to accept paper registration applications on the day that their offices reopen. Detzner did not extend a Tuesday night deadline for voters to register online.
Hinkle wrote that the Democratic Party believed the directive did not go "far enough" — but he denied the request for a temporary restraining order, with a few caveats.
"The party has asked for a statewide extension of one week for all forms of registration. But there is no justification for this," Hinkle wrote. "Some parts of the state were affected little by the hurricane. Extending the deadline in those parts of the state would not level the playing field or provide a remedy for the hurricane's effects. Large numbers of voters register shortly before the deadline, but that happens routinely, with or without a hurricane. A state could set a later deadline or no deadline at all, but that is not the course Florida has chosen. The party does not challenge in this lawsuit the state's decision to set a deadline 29 days before an election."
The caveats included in the order dealt with how Detzner's directive would be carried out. For example, Hinkle sought to make sure Detzner's directive is considered mandatory for the counties where elections offices were closed Tuesday. Similarly, he sought to make sure it applies on the first "full" business day county elections offices open all of their locations.
"Nothing in the directive suggests the secretary intended anything contrary to these understandings," Hinkle wrote. "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."
In the case filed Tuesday, the Democratic Party argued that Detzner's directive was "insufficient and confusing" and said it "does not adequately protect the voting rights of Florida citizens who cannot register to vote by the October 9 registration deadline."
Without the extension, "there is a strong likelihood that the right to vote of thousands of Floridians, including plaintiffs' members and constituents, will be severely burdened (if not eliminated entirely) in the 2018 general election," the party's lawyers wrote.
Three groups — Common Cause, New Majority Florida Education Fund and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund — filed a similar case against the state Wednesday. That case remained pending Thursday morning, according to an online docket.