Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rick Scott hints at changes to voter registration law

Posted By on Tue, Oct 11, 2016 at 5:54 PM

Gov. Rick Scott could ask the Legislature to change Florida's voter-registration law next year, his office indicated Tuesday, the day before a court hearing on whether to further extend this month's deadline because of Hurricane Matthew.

Scott's statement came after a sharply worded ruling from U.S. District Judge Mark Walker moved the deadline for signing up to vote from Tuesday to Wednesday, allowing Walker to consider a request by the Florida Democratic Party to allow voters to continue registering through Oct. 18.

Democrats filed a lawsuit after Scott, who heads a super PAC supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, said he wouldn't push back the deadline to accommodate voters who fled Hurricane Matthew before the storm lashed Florida's East Coast late last week.

"The state will follow the court's decision and discuss with the Legislature possible amendments to current law during the upcoming legislative session," Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Scott's office also highlighted a part of Walker's Monday ruling that suggested Secretary of State Ken Detzner —- who was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit —- was the appropriate state official to be the target of the suit and that state law doesn't seem to address the deadline issue.

"Therefore, according to the judge, extending the voter registration deadline is not a decision specifically granted to the governor of Florida, including in a declared state of emergency like Hurricane Matthew," Schutz said. "Additionally, the judge stated that the governor is not a proper party to the lawsuit."

But Walker also suggested that the absence of provisions for the state of emergency was a flaw and potentially made the law unconstitutional because in the wake of the evacuation, it "completely disenfranchises thousands of voters, and amounts to a severe burden on the right to vote."

That could prompt changes to the voter-registration law, though Schutz's statement didn't specify what changes the governor might propose when legislators return to the Capitol for the 2017 session.

Scott's office wouldn't address a question about whether the state planned to argue against a further extension of the deadline during a hearing Wednesday morning.

In a follow-up email, Schutz advised a reporter who asked about those issues to "use our statement today and then go to the hearing tomorrow." She said attorneys for the governor's office and the Department of State would be at the hearing.

In the lawsuit, filed late Sunday, lawyers for the Democratic Party argued it was unfair for Scott to warn residents to follow evacuation orders ahead of the storm while at the same time refusing to give people more time to register after the storm displaced them and forced government offices to close.

The filing also said the effects of the decision not to extend the deadline will hurt some voters more than others. The party argued in its lawsuit that minority voters are more likely to register closer to the election and that voters in parts of the state untouched by Hurricane Matthew will face fewer obstacles to signing up.

The registration deadline has become a flashpoint in Florida, the nation's largest swing state, one month ahead of Election Day in one of the most heated presidential campaigns in recent political history. The Democrats' lawsuit was announced less than two hours before a testy televised debate between Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Florida's 10 Democratic U.S. House members sent a letter to Scott urging him to extend the deadline. But Scott resisted.

"Everybody has had a lot of time to register," he said last week.

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