A North Carolina judge late Friday afternoon ordered the state voter registration deadline extended in 36 counties reeling from Hurricane Matthew and resultant flooding.
Wake Superior Court Judge Don Stephens gave the order to push the deadline from Friday to Wednesday.
The counties include Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gates, Greene, Harnett, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Tyrrell, Washington, Wayne and Wilson.
The state Democratic Party sued state Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach to get the deadline extended, saying her refusal to do so created a hardship for people displaced by a natural disaster.
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“If the deadline is not extended, then thousands of voters in a critical swing state risk total disenfranchisement in a hotly contested election,” lawyers representing the Democratic Party wrote. They originally sought the extension for the entire state, but Stephens limited it to counties getting help from FEMA.
“The last week of voter registration is invaluable,” said John R. Wallace, a Raleigh attorney representing the state Democratic Party.
State Democrats, the state NAACP and Common Cause NC had asked this week for some kind of registration extension.
Assistant Attorney General Alex Peters, who represented Strach, said extending the deadline would burden local elections offices because they also have to prepare for the start of early voting on Thursday.
Judges in Florida and Georgia extended voter registration deadlines in those states because of Hurricane Matthew. South Carolina also extended its voter registration period.
Arguments against the extension were that the early voting period, when people can register and vote on the same day, offers another chance to people who miss the original registration deadline.
Shannon R. Joseph, a Raleigh lawyer representing the Democratic Party, said same-day registration is not a substitute, because some people may want to vote by mail.
Josh Lawson, general counsel for the State Board of Elections, said the office did not plan to appeal.
Tom Stark, a lawyer representing the state Republican Party, left open the possibility the GOP might try to stop the extension.
“We’ll have to look at that,” said Stark, saying the GOP is concerned about chaos in the counties.