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Advocates File Lawsuit to Compel Secretary of State Detzner to Extend Voter Registration Deadline in Wake of Hurricane Michael

For Immediate Release October 10, 2018

MIAMI, FL – Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU of Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Advancement Project are suing on behalf of three voting rights organizations — New Florida Majority, Common Cause, and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund — seeking a statewide extension of the voter registration deadline to Tuesday, October 16 as a result of Hurricane Michael and reported problems with the state’s online voter registration system in the final days of the registration period.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner declared Tuesday that under Florida Governor Rick Scott’s direction, voter registration would only be re-opened for one day in counties directly affected by the state of emergency declared in response to Hurricane Michael, and only for voters submitting paper voter registration applications.

“In the face of inaction by state officials, we are turning to the courts to ensure that all would-be voters who seek to exercise their voice this election cycle will not face disenfranchisement as a result of factors that are beyond their control,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Our thoughts are with Floridians who risk braving this vicious storm. We know that a full recovery includes making sure that everyone is where they should be had the storm not hit. That holds for all things of value, including the right to vote. With this suit, we are asking the court to give back to Florida voters their lost opportunity to register to vote.”

“It is very sad that instead of doing everything in their power to make sure those affected by the storm can still exercise their constitutional right to vote, Governor Scott and Secretary Detzner continually refuse to do so,” said Nancy Abudu, legal director, ACLU of Florida. “Hurricane Michael is a potentially catastrophic natural disaster, and all we are asking is that the Governor and Secretary exercise the full extent of their authority to ensure that all Floridians have equal and fair access to the ballot box this November.”

Gov. Scott’s Declaration of a State of Emergency impacts 35 of Florida’s 67 counties, with numerous mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders and interrupted the voter registration process at a crucial time: in the final two days of the registration period of the 2016 General Election, tens of thousands of Floridians registered to vote; and in 2012, approximately 181,000 Floridians signed up in the last nine days of registration. This lawsuit seeks a court order to compel the state to extend the voter registration deadline for an additional week statewide, in light of the Hurricane.

“Voters should not have to risk their life to register to vote,” said Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Florida can prevent widespread disenfranchisement by extending its voter registration deadline to accommodate the tens of thousands of Floridians affected by Hurricane Michael. It simply refuses to do so.”

The lawsuit argues that the state’s failure to extend the registration deadline and denial of critical voter registration opportunities violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Tens of thousands of Floridians will likely be prevented from participating in November’s General Election absent an extension. In a similar lawsuit in 2016, a federal court ordered the extension of the voter registration deadline when Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on the state at the time of the registration deadline.

Besides the disruptions caused by Hurricane Michael, users across Florida have also reported experiencing problems with the online voter registration system, compounding the burden on Floridians ability to register to vote.

“Hurricane Michael could prevent countless voters, regardless of political affiliation, from registering to vote,” said Moné Holder, senior program director, New Florida Majority. “This act of nature, coupled with documented voter registration website malfunctions is a double blow to our communities. Voting is a fundamental right and we must ensure that Floridians have an unfettered opportunity to participate in the electoral process.”

“This is another missed opportunity by the State of Florida to minimize the burden on the lives of Floridians who may suffer untold destruction from Hurricane Michael,” said Donita Judge, Co-Program Director and Senior Attorney of Advancement Project National Office Project’s Power & Democracy Program. “The state should not add to this burden by stripping would be voters of the opportunity to register and vote in this historic election.”

A copy of the complaint can be found here: https://lawyerscommittee.org/fl-complaint-for-injunctive-and-declaratory-relief/. Impacted individuals who seek more information or help with voting should contact Election Protection, a program led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, at 866-OUR-VOTE.

About the ACLU of Florida

The ACLU is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works in courts, Congress, legislatures, and communities to protect and advance the constitutional rights of everybody. With a nationwide network and more than 2 million members and supporters, the ACLU takes up the toughest civil liberties fights. Learn more at aclu.org and aclufl.org.

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 55th year, the Lawyers’ Committee is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org

About New Florida Majority

The New Florida Majority is an independent political organization working to increase the voting and political power of marginalized and excluded constituencies toward an inclusive, equitable, and just Florida. For more information, please visit https://newfloridamajority.org/wp/

About the Advancement Project

Advancement Project’s National Office is a next generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change. For more information, please visit https://advancementproject.org/.

 

CONTACT: 

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Derrick Robinson, [email protected], 202-662-8317

ACLU of Florida Media Office, [email protected], (786) 363-2737

About The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers' Committee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The Lawyers' Committee celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 as it continued its quest of "Moving America Toward Justice." The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice.

For more information about the Lawyers' Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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