Democrats are asking a federal judge to let Floridians cast regular ballots during early voting next week, even if their registration hasn’t been processed. Republicans are warning about chaos.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker will hold a hearing at 9 a.m. today. More than 60,000 people responded to Walker's week-long extension of the registration deadline.
Officials didn’t give party breakdowns so it’s too early say whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton benefitted. But the Florida Democratic Party and liberal-leaning groups like the League of Women Voters and Mi Familia Vota sued for the extension, citing Hurricane Matthew.
University of South Florida Political Scientist Susan MacManus calls the number of new registrations significant, especially considering Florida is a swing state and President Barack Obama won it by a single percentage point.
“This is what happens when you create an urgency, you create a lot of publicity about it, plus you’ve got such an exciting election like this one, it’s been a lot easier to register voters in this period.”
Of course, voter registration is not the same as voter turnout.
MacManus says the dark tone of the presidential race combined with the high negatives of both presidential candidates could reduce turnout from the 72 percent mark it hit four years ago.
“The turnout equation is never able to be predicted by the polls and it’s always the most important part of an election because if you don’t get people to the polls you don’t win.”
In Republican-dominated Seminole County, more than 4,600 people took advantage of the extended deadline, says Elections Supervisor Michael Ertel.
Ertel says his staff is rushing to verify the new names before early voting begins next week. Anyone can request a provisional ballot if his or her name doesn’t show up on the list when they go to the polls, Ertel says.
“The beauty of the provisional ballot process is that it allows for things that happen, like this, like a hurricane causing an extension of the deadline, for voters to be able to cast the ballot on Election Day and still have it be counted.”
Applications are entered into a central voter file and cross-checked with Social Security or driver license records. The Department of State returns some applications to local supervisors if information can’t be verified.
Democrats sued when Governor Rick Scott refused their request to extend the registration deadline. Scott says he didn’t have the power to act on his own. But voting rights advocate Karl Frisch says Republicans have been trying to suppress turnout for years.
“Anybody who thinks for a moment that given the opportunity again, that Governor Scott or others in the state would not pursue policies designed to disenfranchise certain segments of the electorate are fooling themselves.”
Frisch says Republicans have tried to curtail early voting hours, fought efforts to restore civil rights to ex-felons and fought attempts to implement online voter registration. Republicans say they are trying to prevent voter fraud.