Florida Judge Extends Voter Registration Deadline After Hurricane Matthew

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A supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump prays at a campaign rally in Ocala, Florida, on October 12. After voter advocacy groups filed a lawsuit to argue that more than 100,000 residents could be disenfranchised in the November 8 election, Judge Mark Walker extended the October 11 voter registration deadline by six days. Mike Segar/Reuters

Voter advocacy groups have persuaded a Florida judge to extend the state's voter registration deadline to October 18 in the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew.

On Tuesday, the groups filed a lawsuit arguing that more than 100,000 voters could be disenfranchised because of disruptions caused by the hurricane that struck the Sunshine State on Friday, just four days before its October 11 deadline. The suit said more time was necessary to make sure Florida residents had a wide enough window in which to register, as federal law requires.

Prior to their lawsuit, Republican Governor Rick Scott had argued against moving the deadline. But the Florida Democratic Party on Sunday filed an initial lawsuit to move the date. The next day, when federal courts were closed for the Columbus Day holiday, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker initially ordered the deadline be pushed to Wednesday. Walker, who was nominated by President Barack Obama, called it "irrational" for the state to reject that idea, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

In the courtroom on Wednesday, the lawyers representing Scott and his chief elections official remained largely silent and didn't take a position for or against the extension, according to The Miami Herald. Democrats said the storm closed common voter registration sites in the state, including county election supervisors, collectors and driver's license offices.

Walker's most recent decision extends the final registration day until next Tuesday.

"Federal law requires the state to provide voters with enough time to register before the election," said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "With this extension, more citizens will be able to exercise their most fundamental right in our democracy."

In 2012, more than 150,000 Floridians registered to vote in the nine days leading up to the state deadline.

Scott last week declared a state of emergency in Florida. The center of Hurricane Matthew ultimately remained just off the state's coast over the weekend, but at least four deaths were linked to the storm and more than 1.1 million residents were without power on Friday night, The Washington Post reported. Half of the League of Women Voters of Florida's chapters were forced to cancel registration drives last weekend because of the storm, including in four of the five most populous counties in the state.

Florida is a crucial battleground state. It holds nearly 3 million independent voters. In past presidential election years, as much as 20 percent of all new voter registrations in Florida occurred in the week before the registration deadline, according to the Brennan Center. The advocacy groups wanted to ensure its could help as many citizens as possible cast ballots in the November 8 election.

With Election Day less than a month away, voting already has started in locations across the country. States with registration deadlines this week include Delaware, Idaho, Missouri and New York. Next week, the list includes Kansas, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia. Residents should check their state websites for specific information and requirements.