Florida Democrats have sued to force Gov. Rick Scott to extend the state’s Tuesday voter registration deadline in light of Hurricane Matthew.
But among the hurdles the suit may face is that most of the areas in the Sunshine State that were affected by the storm lean Republican.
In an action filed Sunday night in federal court, lawyers for the Florida Democratic Party challenged Scott’s refusal to extend the Tuesday deadline to accommodate Floridians displaced by Matthew. Scott, a Republican, said Thursday that people have had plenty of time to register.
Noting that Scott urged around 1.5 million people to “evacuate, evacuate, evacuate,” the lawsuit accuses the governor of “forcing voters to choose between their safety and the safety of their families, on one hand, and their fundamental right to vote, on the other hand.''
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Scott’s failure to extend the deadline, the lawsuit claims, violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act’s ban on racial discrimination in voting.
The suit was filed by Marc Elias, who also is the Hillary Clinton campaign’s top lawyer. Scott, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, has not yet responded to the suit.
During the final week of registration in 2012, 24,656 new Democrats registered, compared to 10,322 new Republicans, according to data from the voter file firm TargetSmart analyzed by NBC News. President Obama won the state by just under 75,000 votes.
With Florida mostly escaping the worst of the storm, it’s not clear what impact it had on voter registration. Groups in the Miami area were back registering voters as early as Friday, one coordinator said. President Bill Clinton planned to campaign for his wife Tuesday at voter registration events in several south Florida counties.
Perhaps more important politically, the areas of the state that suffered the most damage were on the central and northern part of Florida’s Atlantic coast, and are overwhelmingly Republican leaning. Of the eight Florida counties that have been declared eligible for emergency federal disaster relief funds—Brevard, Duval, Flagler, Indian River, Nassau, Nassau, St. Johns, St. Lucie, and Volusia—all except St. Lucie voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama in 2012. In Nassau and St. Johns, Romney got over two thirds of the vote.
That doesn’t prove the storm hurt Republicans more than Democrats.
As University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith has noted, Democrats tend to depend more than Republicans on voter registration efforts, especially those that come late in the game. And much of the registration work that may have been upended by Mathew focused on Hispanics, who lean Democratic.
But it could make a federal court less likely to see a pressing emergency that requires immediate intervention.
Another potential problem for the suit: as the election law scholar Rick Hasen noted online, Florida law requires that changes to election rules be made by the legislature, not the governor, so it’s not clear that Scott has the power to extend the deadline on his own.
Zachary Roth is a national reporter for MSNBC Digital. He has previously worked at Yahoo News, Talking Points Memo, and the Washington Monthly, and has written for The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, Slate, Salon, The LA Times, and The Guardian, among other outlets. He lives in Brooklyn with his family.