Scott won't extend voter registration deadline as Hurricane Matthew threatens state
By MATT DIXON and MARC CAPUTO 10/06/16 09:22 PM EDT
TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the chairman of the super PAC backing Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, has refused to extend the Tuesday deadline for voter registration as requested by Hillary Clinton’s campaign due to Hurricane Matthew.
“Everybody has had a lot of time to register,” Scott said during a storm update Thursday night in the state’s Emergency Operations Center. “On top of that, we’ve got lots of opportunities to vote: Early voting, absentee voting and Election Day. So, I don’t intend to make any changes.”
Scott’s decision could end up in court, but it’s not clear if a plaintiff could prevail because Florida law doesn’t explicitly grant the governor the power to move voter-registration deadlines.
The decision from the political leader of the nation’s most important swing state — one Trump needs to win to keep his White House hopes alive — comes at a crucial time in the presidential race in Florida, where polls show Clinton is starting to nudge ahead of her GOP rival.
Meanwhile, voter-registration records show, Democrats are walloping Republicans. The Florida Democratic Party has submitted about 488,000 voter-registration forms it has collected for this election, while Republicans have submitted roughly 60,000, according to state reports.
In all, about 1.9 million voter-registration forms have been collected by nearly 700 groups statewide. Most of those groups appear Democrat-leaning or are dedicated to registering poor, young and minority voters who tend to vote for Democrats. The National Council of La Raza/Democracia USA, for instance, has registered about 49,000 people for this election — nearly all Hispanic, at least 60 percent of whom are voting for Clinton, records show.
The final days of voter registration in Florida often brings out more people who register as Democrats or who, though they register as no-party-affiliation voters, fit the profile of a Democratic voter.
In 2012, for instance, more than 86,000 people registered to vote in the last eight days before the deadline — only 21 percent were Republican and 40 percent were Democrats; 38 percent were independents but many were young and/or minority, according to Daniel A. Smith, a University of Florida political science professor, who studies the state’s voter-registration rolls and trends.
President Barack Obama in 2012 won the state by just 74,309 votes, or less than a single percentage point.
“I think there’s a connection between what Rick Scott is doing and the numbers we see,” Smith said. “I don’t expect him to extend the voter-registration period because the tailed end of voter-registration drive tends to pick up those who are less politically engaged, who are younger and minority voters and that doesn’t bode well for the Republican Party.”
Smith also poked holes in Republican claims that the GOP had a better ground game operation because it appeared at one point to register more voters. What happened, Smith showed with data, was that rural and Southern-style Democrats, who were likely Republican voters, just finally changed party affiliation. Of Florida’s 12.5 million active registered voters, about 38 percent are Democrats and 36 percent are Republicans.
On a conference call Thursday with reporters, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robbie Mook called for a registration extension beyond the Tuesday deadline. “We are hoping and expecting that officials in Florida will adapt deadlines to account for the storm,” said Mook. The campaign and Democrats won’t say if they will sue.
But a lawyer at the Perkins Coie law firm, which does work for Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, almost promised a lawsuit in a Twitter message that called out Scott by his handle.
“Well @FLGovScott I know some folks who are gonna have the last say on this. And none of them is you. #seeyouincourt,” attorney Jean-Jacques Cabou, a partner of Perkins Coie, wrote in response to Scott’s announcement.
South Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy separately told MSNBC that Scott should extend the deadline.
As the chairman of the Trump-backing Rebuilding America Now PAC, Scott is being compared by Democrats to former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who oversaw Florida’s controversial voter purge in 2000 and its botched election while she was a Florida chairwoman for the presidential campaign of George W. Bush, the brother of then-Gov. Jeb Bush.
Under Scott’s leadership, Rebuilding America Now has spent more than $14 million in TV ads backing Trump in the swing states of Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Hurricane Matthew, which has at times been a category 4 storm, was originally expected to blast Miami-Dade County — a Democratic stronghold — but is now forecast to have the biggest impact further north along Florida’s east coast. It is very slow moving, which means it is projected to impact portions of Florida’s east coast throughout the weekend.
Late Thursday night, the hurricane was lashing the Atlantic coast with wind and rain. Scott said more than 1.5 million Floridians live in the evacuation zones along the east coast.
If the storm is as damaging as Scott and others had feared, it could leave enough devastation to make the delivery of absentee ballots problematic or could lead election officials to change polling stations.
Obama’s former Florida campaign manager, Ashley Walker, said Scott’s action tonight was consistent with someone who has tried to suppress the vote.
“Gov. Scott has had a history of trying to limit people’s access to voting,” she said, “whether be it in 2011 signing a law that cracked down on voter registration drivers and early voting to limiting early voting hours in 2012 to now — as the state is facing a horrible hurricane — to not giving people a few extra days to register to vote.”
Walker now heads up the For Our Future political committee that’s launching a broad get-out-the-vote effort targeting 1.9 million so-called “sporadic” voters who heavily favor Democrats. Of them, the group wants to get 1.4 million to cast vote-by-mail absentee ballots.
Walker and others noted that the hurricane might make absentee-ballot voting problematic because people might be displaced or have other residency problems that make voting by mail tougher in a disaster zone.
So far, about 2.6 million Floridians are slated to receive absentee ballots. The deadline for all counties to start sending them is Tuesday.
Election-law blogger Rick Hasen, of the University of California Irvine School of Law, said Hurricane Matthew could be the ultimate election problem for the nation, not just Florida.
“Displaced Floridians will want to vote absentee, but absentee ballots that were mailed won't be available for some, creating complications,” he said on Twitter, where he predicted Democrats would sue.
“If the storm seriously disrupts FL election processes, courts could get involved, and cases could end up at 4-4 deadlocked. … bottom line: a hurricane in FL whose votes could be decisive for president is one of the worst election administration nightmares,” he tweeted.