A federal judge has agreed to extend voter registration in Florida until 18 October following the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew. The decision marks a significant victory for the Democratic Party in one of the key swing states that could determine the election in November.
Judge Mark E Walker, of the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida, agreed with the Florida Democratic Party and voting rights advocates that the storm threatened to restrict some citizens of their right to vote. "No right is more precious than having a voice in our democracy," Walker wrote in a brief order.
"Hopefully, it is not lost on anyone that the right to have a voice is why this great country exists in the first place," the judge added. According to CNN, Walker said he heard testimony from the Leon County Supervisor of Elections who noted the storm had placed "tremendous strain" on election offices. The storm also delayed naturalisation ceremonies that would prevent new citizens from voting.
The state's original voter registration deadline was 11 October but it was moved to 12 October in order for a hearing to be held. The New York Times reported that Democrats sued Republican Governor Rick Scott after he refused to extend the state's registration deadline.
"Everybody's had a lot of time to register," Scott reportedly argued. "Look, this is, this is politics." However, Democrats and the League of Women Voters disagreed. The two groups noted that as many as 181,000 residents signed up to vote in the last nine days of registration in the state back in 2012.
Scott also argued he lacked the authority to extend the registration deadline, the Times reported.
"We'll not be able to make up for lost time and help register people whose lives were disrupted by the storm," Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said. "Our goal is to help every Floridian register, voter, and be heard, and we're grateful that the storm did not silence their voices."
Florida residents have until 5pm EST (11pm BST) on 18 October to register to vote. Residents must fill out a paper form and deliver it in person or by mail to their local elections office, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Early voting in Florida begins on 24 October and lasts until 6 November.
According to the RealClearPolitics average, Democrat Hillary Clinton leads Republican Donald Trump by 2.7% in Florida polls. An Opinion Savvy survey released on 11 October shows Clinton ahead on 47% compared to Trump's 44%. Third party candidates Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) and Jill Stein (Green Party) lag behind on 5% and 1% respectively.