MIAMI, FL – Today, the ACLU of Florida, American Civil Liberties Union, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Advancement Project are suing on behalf of three voting rights organizations — New Florida Majority, Common Cause, and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund — seeking a statewide extension of the voter registration deadline to Tuesday, October 16 as a result of Hurricane Michael and reported problems with the state’s online voter registration system in the final days of the registration period.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner declared Tuesday that under Florida Governor Rick Scott’s direction, voter registration would only be re-opened for one day in counties directly affected by the state of emergency declared in response to Hurricane Michael, and only for voters submitting paper voter registration applications.
"It is very sad that instead of doing everything in their power to make sure those affected by the storm can still exercise their constitutional right to vote, Governor Scott and Secretary Detzner continually refuse to do so,” said Nancy Abudu, legal director, ACLU of Florida. “Hurricane Michael is a potentially catastrophic natural disaster, and all we are asking is that the Governor and Secretary exercise the full extent of their authority to ensure that all Floridians have equal and fair access to the ballot box this November.”
“In the face of inaction by state officials, we are turning to the courts to ensure that all would-be voters who seek to exercise their voice this election cycle will not face disenfranchisement as a result of factors that are beyond their control, said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Our thoughts are with Floridians who risk braving this vicious storm. We know that a full recovery includes making sure that everyone is where they should be had the storm not hit. That holds for all things of value, including the right to vote. With this suit, we are asking the court to give back to Florida voters their lost opportunity to register to vote.”
Gov. Scott’s Declaration of a State of Emergency impacts 35 of Florida’s 67 counties, with numerous mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders and interrupted the voter registration process at a crucial time: in the final two days of the registration period of the 2016 General Election, tens of thousands of Floridians registered to vote; and in 2012, approximately 181,000 Floridians signed up in the last nine days of registration. This lawsuit seeks a court order to compel the state to extend the voter registration deadline for an additional week statewide, in light of the Hurricane.
"Voters should not have to risk their life to register to vote,” said Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Florida can prevent widespread disenfranchisement by extending its voter registration deadline to accommodate the tens of thousands of Floridians affected by Hurricane Michael. It simply refuses to do so."
The lawsuit argues that the state’s failure to extend the registration deadline and denial of critical voter registration opportunities violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Tens of thousands of Floridians will likely be prevented from participating in November’s General Election absent an extension. In a similar lawsuit in 2016, a federal court ordered the extension of the voter registration deadline when Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on the state at the time of the registration deadline.
Besides the disruptions caused by Hurricane Michael, users across Florida have also reported experiencing problems with the online voter registration system, compounding the burden on Floridians ability to register to vote.
"Hurricane Michael could prevent countless voters, regardless of political affiliation, from registering to vote,” said Moné Holder, senior program director, New Florida Majority. “This act of nature, coupled with documented voter registration website malfunctions is a double blow to our communities. Voting is a fundamental right and we must ensure that Floridians have an unfettered opportunity to participate in the electoral process."
“This is another missed opportunity by the State of Florida to minimize the burden on the lives of Floridians who may suffer untold destruction from Hurricane Michael," said Donita Judge, Co-Program Director and Senior Attorney of Advancement Project National Office Project’s Power & Democracy Program. “The state should not add to this burden by stripping would be voters of the opportunity to register and vote in this historic election.”
A copy of the complaint can be found here: https://www.aclufl.org/sites/default/files/complaint_-_04915753592.pdf