A South Carolina court Tuesday extended the deadline for voters to register before November’s midterm elections after Hurricane Florence disrupted election preparations in many parts of the state.
The court’s order extends the voter registration deadline until the close of business on Oct. 17 throughout the state. All registration applications will have to be received or postmarked by that date.
The deadline otherwise would have been this weekend.
Circuit Court Judge Robert Hood issued the order in Columbia after S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, R-Lexington, filed suit last week to extend the deadline, arguing the hurricane’s disruption created too much of a burden on both voters and county election offices.
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The state Election Commission did not oppose the extension, saying in a short court hearing that it was in the best interest of voters. However, the commission noted, state law doesn’t allow for an extension without a court order or legislative action.
“This is unprecedented in South Carolina,” state Election Commission Director Marci Andino said of the statewide extension.
The suit created strange bedfellows, as the Republican attorney general — seeking re-election in November — found himself on the same side as the American Civil Liberties Union, which also asked state election officials to extend the registration deadline after Florence rolled over South Carolina last month. Joining the ALCU in that request were the S.C. Progressive Network and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Florence made landfall in the Carolinas on Sept. 14 and slowly moved across the Palmetto State, causing flooding in many areas of the state. Some communities were forced to evacuate or limit travel as flooding rivers made their way to the sea.
Even with the extension, absentee voting is scheduled to begin Monday. That could create de facto same-day voter registration, where a voter could register and vote absentee all in the same day.
That concerns Richland County elections director Rokey Suleman.
“We don’t really have the procedures in place to deal with that,” Suleman said. “In 46 counties, you could have 46 slightly different ways of handling it.”
Suleman said he has asked for guidance from the state on how to handle the issue. S.C. Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said the commission would not have an issue with same-day voting, noting some jurisdictions already make absentee ballots available before the end of the registration period.
“The only difference is that may happen more often,” Whitmire said. “But it’s not a problem.”
He said Richland County’s election office still will be open this Saturday to register new voters.