Florida Governor Rick Scott has received considerable backlash for his refusal to extend the voter registration deadline in his state in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. While Matthew did not hit Florida directly, it still wreaked havoc, with most people along Florida’s east coast losing power over the weekend and various homes being destroyed. There have even been 19 hurricane-related deaths from Matthew’s passage through the United States (and over 800 in Haiti). Matthew ripped through Florida from Thursday, October 6, through Friday, October 7, and Florida’s voter registration deadline is this coming Tuesday, October 11. Isn’t that an indicator that those affected worst should receive extended time to register?
People from my community in Orlando may be able to make sure they’re registered on Monday or Tuesday because the storm didn’t hit us so hard. But those from Jacksonville, Daytona Beach or St. Augustine, as well as various other Florida cities, are going to be unpacking from evacuation, repairing flood damage, or even finding a new place to live if their homes were severely damaged. On Monday or Tuesday, these folks won’t have the privilege of thinking about whether or not they’re registered to vote; they’ll be trying to get their lives back in order after a natural disaster.
Governor Scott said that he won’t change the deadline because “everybody has had a lot of time to register”. Sure, most college students have the whole semester to do their final paper, but do we work on it in the months before it’s due? Probably not. And even if we do, we will need that final week before the deadline to make sure everything is in place. The same often goes for voter registration. Take me for example: I’m registered to vote, but I need to change my address, and I sent in the change of address form on Wednesday, only to have no idea if it went through because Matthew halted mail operations on Friday (and possibly Thursday). Now I only have until Tuesday to find out if my address is correct because that’s the deadline.
Had Governor Scott agreed to extend the deadline, though, I’d have plenty of time to resend the form and make sure that I can vote instead of letting Matthew potentially get in the way. This, of course, is one of the far less severe cases. Those affected deeply by the storm do not have it so easy; they may not even be able to transport themselves to the post office due to flooded streets. There would have been no harm done by Governor Scott extending the deadline, even if only for a few days.
Voting is not only a right but a way to affect change, especially in swing states such as Florida, where a specific majority party affiliation is never guaranteed. As governor, Scott knows that Floridians’ votes heavily sway the election, as sad as it is that swing states have that much more influence than everyone else does. So voting may even mean more to Floridians than it does for people in other states. However, some citizens now may have to forfeit their right to vote because their governor refused to grant lenience from a circumstance outside their control.
To make matters worse, there is some likelihood that Scott has made this decision for partisan reasons. According to trends, those who register last-minute tend to be younger and/or of a lower socioeconomic status, which makes them far more likely to be Democrats. Scott is a strong Republican, and while I’d like to believe that he refuses to change the registration deadline just to avoid the paperwork, it would not be surprising if there were partisan motivations behind it as well, especially in such a volatile election.
No matter his reasoning, Governor Scott should change his mind. After all, it’s not like Florida’s voters had control over Matthew. Extending the deadline would simply guarantee the voting rights held by all adult citizens.