Judges order extensions of registration deadlines

Judges in Georgia and North Carolina on Friday ordered state election officials to extend voter-registration deadlines in some counties due to disruptions caused by Hurricane Matthew, which forced thousands of people to evacuate and temporarily closed some government offices.

The judges’ rulings came after Georgia’s governor and North Carolina’s state board of elections’ executive director declined to extend the deadlines.

In North Carolina, where the traditional deadline to register was Friday, a state judge ordered election officials to extend it until next Wednesday in 36 eastern counties impacted by massive flooding from the hurricane that left 24 dead. Matthew killed a total of 41 people in the U.S., and more than 500 in Haiti.

In Georgia, U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. ruled residents of Chatham County, which includes Savannah, must be allowed to register through next Tuesday– a week after the original deadline passed. Powerful winds, heavy rain and flooding from Matthew led to downed trees, building damage and power outages around Chatham County, which has 278,000 residents.

The two states join Florida and South Carolina in extending their deadlines. After Florida Gov. Rick Scott refused to extend his state’s Oct. 11 deadline, a federal judge first extended it by a day and then later to Oct. 18. South Carolina extended its original Oct. 7 deadline, and will now accept registration forms postmarked no later than Tuesday.

In North Carolina, a presidential battleground state where President Barack Obama won by about 14,000 votes in 2008 and lost to Mitt Romney by 92,000 votes four years later, the state Democratic Party sued the state board’s executive director earlier Friday. Executive Director Kim Strach had allowed some leeway by agreeing to accept mailed applications through Wednesday, but the Democrats said that wasn’t enough.

In a hastily arranged hearing, Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens acknowledged that local election officials could face more administrative obstacles in accepting traditional applications for three more business days next week as they prepare for early in-person voting.

But Stephens said those obstacles were outweighed by the “significant right of the constitution to ensure that every voter that wants to vote is not precluded from doing so as a result of a natural disaster.”

North Carolina residents can still register and cast ballots during the early-voting period.