If the issue had been “registering your child for school,” extending the deadline because of Hurricane Matthew’s widespread disruption would have been a given, a no-brainer. But because giving as many Floridians as possible the opportunity to vote in November — a prospect that rankles too many Republican lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott — the whole thing ended up in court.
Wednesday, U.S. Judge Mark Walker gave residents an extra week to register to vote. Floridians who have yet to do so should not squander this unexpected opportunity. As the judge said from the bench, “There is not right more precious than having a voice in elections.” He approved the state Democratic Party’s request to lengthen the period of time during which people — of any political party, of course — can register in order to cast a ballot in November’s high-stakes election.
He did so not because he’s “an activist judge.” Not because he favors one presidential candidate over another. But because he recognized that, “The right to have a voice is the very reason for our country’s existence.”
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Tuesday was supposed to be the last day that Floridians could register to vote in November. But several voting-rights groups, concerned that residents recovering from Hurricane Matthew’s lashing, might delay registering, or forget altogether.
Monday, Judge Walker extended the deadline by one day — to Wednesday — in advance of the hearing. With his latest ruling, Floridians now have until Oct. 18 to register.
The extension is a big deal in this state. More than 50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Florida remains a state that works hard to suppress the vote — of some people.
Nationwide, nearly 6 million Americans are barred from voting because felony convictions — but only Florida and Iowa impose a lifelong disenfranchisement on ex-felons by stripping them of their right to vote. In Florida, the denial is a shameful vestige of an era in which blacks were blocked from the voting booth with onerous poll taxes, ridiculous literacy tests and outright intimidation. Now, blacks and Hispanics are the outsized victims.
Unfortunately, when Republican Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, he immediately reversed the much-more relaxed policy of his predecessor, Charlie Crist. Under Mr. Crist, the rights of many felony offenders who had completed their sentences were automatically restored.
But Gov. Scott introduced new rules requiring that people convicted of nonviolent felonies wait five years before being eligible to just apply to have their civil rights restored; those convicted of violent and certain more serious felonies must wait seven years to apply.
It’s part of a nationwide pattern: Republican-led legislatures and assemblies, citing the fight against nonexistent voter fraud, for example, enact laws that erect hurdles that hinder specifically minorities, young voters and seniors on their way to the voting booth.
And presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly incited his supporters — many already antsy and hostile — to go to “certain areas” on Election Day: “Go and vote and then go check out areas because a lot of bad things happen.”
Yes, they do. And voters must be vigilant against this suggestion of intimidation. As a nation much improved, we’ve been here before, and cannot go back.