How Two Judges Saved Election Day for Thousands in Florida and North Carolina

Florida Governor Rick Scott’s claims that he lacked authority to extend voter registration in his hurricane-thrashed state are now irrelevant, as a federal judge did the work for him by extending the deadline to Oct. 18 in a decision handed down on Wednesday.

This protection of voting rights is justified by federal law and the Constitution, said Judge Mark Walker for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, according to the New York Times.

“No right is more precious,” Judge Walker said.

Florida’s voter registration deadline was originally set for Oct. 11, right in the midst of the worst from Hurricane Matthew, which hit the U.S. coast four days earlier on Oct. 7.

Why is this such a big deal?

Because state offices were closed even before Oct. 7, and Florida residents were urged to evacuate days before that.

And because Florida is notorious for deciding elections (Remember the Gore-Bush debacle in 2000?), and the last week of voter registration in that state has historically been pretty good for the Democratic party.

Democrats and the League of Women Voters, the two parties who sued Scott over his refusal to extend the voter registration deadline, claimed that as many as 181,000 Florida residents had registered to vote in the last nine days of registration in 2012, according to the New York Times.

Now, Florida has a high population, so at first glance, you might think that’s not the hugest deal. And you might even think, “Well, ya snooze, ya lose.” That’s basically what Scott said.

What he actually said, word for word, was,

“Everybody’s had a lot of time to register,” and, “Look, this is, this is politics,” according to the Times.

But let me put it in perspective for you a different way.

Last year, the state of Wyoming had an estimated voting age population of 447,212, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So if what happened in Florida happened in Wyoming, and the registration deadline didn’t get extend, that’s like over 40 percent of the eligible voters in Wyoming not getting to vote.

That’s a lot of people.

So, thank you, Judge Walker, for protecting the political process in Florida.

Now, North Carolina, we’re looking at YOU.

North Carolina is also a swing state that has faced significant damage from Hurricane Matthew. Despite rampant flooding there, the voter registration deadline has been held to Oct. 14 across most of the state.

That is, except for in the 36 counties hit hardest by Hurricane Matthew, thanks to a state judge’s ruling Friday. Thanks to this election day super hero, North Carolina’s eastern-most counties will now have five extra days, until Oct. 19, to get their voter registrations in.

North Carolina’s Republican Governor Pat McCrory said earlier this week,

“Let’s see how we get through this week and see what the status of the voting, early registration sites will be.”

Well, he didn’t do anything.

And then the North Carolina State Board of Elections acted… by refusing an extension of any kind. Except they did say they’d still accept registrations that were already in the mail, but were delayed due to the storm. That’s when the Democratic Party stepped in and filed the lawsuit that led to the extension to register.

The issue might seem slightly less crucial in the Tar Heel state because voters there are able to register and cast a ballot at the same time during their early voting period that begins Oct. 20 and extends through Nov. 5, but it remains to be seen what shape early voting sites will be in, this time next week.

When the houses are literally under water in NC, we don’t know if people will have access to the documents they would need to register on site, like proper identification, or if those polling places will be accessible, let alone even open, to residents of those counties for the entire duration that early voting is supposed to run.

And also, what if you just really like voting on Election Day?

Here’s hoping those that want to do it the old-fashioned way that haven’t yet gotten their registrations in can gitterdun in the next five days.

I just gotta say, though… based on what’s already been a discrimination-laden election cycle in one of my former homes, with election laws struck down for targeting African American voters for several reasons, including voter ID rules that distinguish between acceptable government-issued identification cards, we’re watching you, North Carolina.