Lawsuit Seeks to Extend SC Voter Registration Due to Florence Flooding

[Image via nytimes]

When I write about election litigation on this blog, most often it means that two (or more) parties disagree about some election policy – and might be angry about it besides. Every now and then, however, you see a lawsuit that no one opposes but nonetheless has to proceed in order to make a change. So it is with a new lawsuit in South Carolina, where the Attorney General is suing the State Election Commission to extend voter registration deadlines in the state hit hard by Hurricane Florence. The Post and Courier has more:

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson sued the State Election Commission to extend voter registration by more than a week after parts of the state have been paralyzed by flooding from Hurricane Florence.

The deadlines to vote in the Nov. 6 election vary — in-person registration ends Oct. 5, online registration ends Oct. 7 and mail registration must be postmarked by Oct. 9.

Wilson has sued to extend the deadline to Oct. 17 for in-person and mail registration. The extension would cover all 46 counties in the state because changes must be uniform across South Carolina.

The lawsuit is necessary because the Commission cannot unilaterally extend the deadline – and action is needed even before legislators can reconvene next week:

The Election Commission says it does not have the authority to extend the registration deadline and supports the lawsuit. Commission leaders also sought help from state lawmakers to quickly pass legislation to give voters more registration time when the General Assembly holds a special session next week. State law requires voters register at least a month before an election to cast a ballot.

The lawsuit cites Florence’s devastation and disruptions that have taken place mostly in the Pee Dee. The Sept. 14 storm killed at least nine people in South Carolina, displaced more than 10,000 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

Floodwaters have just started receding after washing out hundreds of roads.

Some voter registration offices remain closed with the flooding or were shut down for long periods, the Election Commission said.

“That date (Oct. 17) would allow citizens whose lives have been disrupted due to the profound impact of Hurricane Florence time to register to vote in order to exercise this fundamental right while recovery efforts proceed,” the suit says.

You can see how unusual the situation is by the litigants – including advocates who often challenge the state – all lining up on the same side:

A spokesman for Gov. Henry McMaster, who is seeking his first full four-year term in office, said the governor supports Wilson’s lawsuit. Wilson is seeking a third term in office.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the South Carolina Progressive Network also asked the Election Commission this week to extend the state voter registration because of flooding.

In the world of elections (and many other worlds, I suppose) judges have a unique power to make things happen; indeed, I’m always fond of saying that “incoming court orders have the right of way.” Here’s hoping that this case moves quickly and that the requested changes can be made as soon as possible. Kudos to everyone in South Carolina for looking out for their voters.

Stay tuned…

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