Florida Democrats, expressing worries that voters could be disenfranchised, want a federal judge to impose new election rules some state officials are warning could create chaos.
The Florida Democratic Party this week asked U.S. District Judge Mark Walker to order state election officials to allow people to cast a ballot during early voting even if their registration application has not yet been verified.
Democrats made this unusual request, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, after saying that some election officials have told them that they won’t be able to verify thousands of voter registration applications before early voting starts in many counties next Monday. Walker has scheduled an emergency hearing for Thursday.
Walker, a federal judge appointed in 2012 by President Barack Obama, ordered that the state’s voting registration deadline be pushed back from Oct. 11 to Oct. 18 due to the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Matthew caused disruption and damage as it scraped the state’s Atlantic coast.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner has estimated that nearly 64,000 people registered during the extended period. But as of Tuesday, there were nearly 27,000 people whose applications were still undergoing verification, including checking social security numbers and driver’s license information.
State officials say they are working to verify all applications by Oct. 29, the date mandatory early voting begins statewide.
“Our number one priority is to make sure that voters have the resources they need to have the opportunity to vote,” Detzner said in a statement. “Our goal is to encourage 100 percent voter participation and have zero percent fraud. The state of Florida is committed to ensuring that all Floridians who have registered to vote by the extended voter registration deadline can vote.”
But early voting is starting next Monday in large urban counties that include the cities of Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa.
The motion filed by Democrats asks Judge Walker to order Detzner’s office to give them an updated list of registered voters by this Friday and to finish the verification process by Sunday.
But if there are voters whose applications are still pending Democrats want them to be able to cast a regular ballot during early voting as long as they produce identification. Currently, voters can be given a provisional ballot if there are questions as to their eligibility. Those ballots aren’t counted until after Election Day.
“The consequences of the state failing to fully and timely implement the court’s October 12 preliminary injunction order are severe and may result in the disenfranchisement of these voters,” states the motion filed by attorneys for the Florida Democratic Party.
Both Detzner — and the Republican Party of Florida — are opposing the move.
Attorneys for Detzner, who works for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican and supporter of GOP nominee, say the request is overly broad and unnecessary because no voters will be unable to vote.
They added that there is no evidence that the state is ignoring Walker’s previous order and that granting it would “threaten chaos, non-uniform results, and unnecessary future legal challenges.” They said that poll workers aren’t trained and don’t have access to the information needed to verify someone’s identity.
Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said in a statement “this lawsuit will strip away any safeguards that protect the integrity of the voting process” by allowing voters to receive a regular ballot instead of a provisional ballot. He called the lawsuit “dangerous” and “unprecedented.”