Federal judge orders extension of voter registration deadline for Chatham County

Some residents of Chatham County were already evacuating by Thursday, Oct. 6, five days before the deadline to register to vote in the November general election. By Oct. 7, many government offices had closed. That night, many area homes lost power; some homes remained without power for a week. Yes, many evacuees were in places with internet access, but many didn’t have such easy access, and few people were fixated on the registration deadline.

So a minor extension of the registration cutoff seemed like the right thing to do, but state officials claimed that they did not have the power to extend the deadline and also argued in court that an extension past the beginning of early voting would create too much of an administrative burden. A federal judge did not find those arguments persuasive.

From the Savannah Morning News:

U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. ruled that while Georgia’s governor and secretary of state may not be under any obligation to provide Chatham County residents with an extension, it was “the right thing to do.”

He granted an emergency preliminary injunction in response to a suit filed by attorneys for several civil rights groups who complained that Hurricane Matthew had deprived potential voters of their right to register to vote in the Nov. 8 general election.

“What is clear to the court, however, is that granting the extension would have been the right thing to do,” Moore wrote in a five-page order filed in Savannah. “Extending a small degree of common decency by allowing impacted individuals a few extra days to register to vote seems like a rather small consolidation on behalf of their government.”

He rejected arguments by an attorney for Secretary of State Brian Kemp that extending the Oct. 11 deadline by a week would present significant administrative burdens on the Chatham County Board of Elections because early voting begins on Monday.

From the AP’s Judges extend voter-registration in North Carolina, Georgia:

The two states join Florida and South Carolina in extending their deadlines. After Florida Gov. Rick Scott refused to extend his state’s Oct. 11 deadline, a federal judge first extended it by a day and then later to Oct. 18. South Carolina extended its original Oct. 7 deadline, and will now accept registration forms postmarked no later than Tuesday.

The fact that state officials fought against the extension of the deadline spawned an especially scathing Savannah Morning News editorial:

But when asked by voter groups to allow more time beyond this Tuesday’s deadline, Mr.Deal and Mr. Kemp, the state’s top elections official, showed no mercy for Savannah’s hurricane victims and declined. They coldly and absurdly claimed it would create too great an administrative headache with early voting beginning this Monday.

Are they kidding? What about the headaches that people here endured to evacuate or to hunker down, and now, to clean up and repair storm-damage property? Are these two state officials suggesting that the courtesy of extending the deadline was something local residents did not deserve from their state government? What happened to showing some mercy?

As the SMN editorial notes, “it’s hard not to notice a partisan reality in this contentious election year,” especially given the likelihood that Clinton and Democrats will do quite well in Chatham County.

Chatham County residents now have until 5 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 18 to register at the office on Eisenhower Drive or on the web.

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