The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), together with the law firm of Bryan Cave LLP, filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, seeking emergency relief extending the time for voter registration in Chatham County, Georgia, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The storm had resulted in the closing of County government offices for what would have been the last six days of the voter registration period. Despite requests to extend the deadline, both Governor Nathan Deal and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, refused to do so. Chatham County, which includes the city of Savannah, has over 200,000 citizens of voting age, of whom more than 40 percent are African American or Latino. It was hit particularly hard by the devastating storm. Almost half of its residents lost power, and it was one of six counties subject to a mandatory evacuation order.
Other states that were subject to the storm’s effects, have had their voter registration deadlines moved, either voluntarily (in the case of South Carolina), or by court order (in the case of Florida). The complaint alleges that the failure to extend the voting deadline violates the fundamental constitutional right to vote and the provisions of the National Voter Registration Act, which require states to receive and process voter registration forms for a full 30 days prior to Election Day.
“We had hoped that Georgia would do the right thing by its citizens and not penalize aspiring voters impacted by Hurricane Matthew,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “There is no right more important than the right to vote, and this suit seeks to ensure that those who wish to exercise that right are not arbitrarily blocked by the vicissitudes of a hurricane and the hardened stance of elections officials.”
The complaint is available here.