State Politics

No extension for NC voter registration after Hurricane Matthew

Highway 117 is under several feet of water in Goldsboro, N.C. Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.
Highway 117 is under several feet of water in Goldsboro, N.C. Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. cliddy@newsobserver.com

The state will keep Friday as the deadline for regular voter registration, the State Board of Elections announced Wednesday, despite the upheaval in eastern counties awash in floodwater.

Common Cause NC this week asked the elections board to extend the regular registration deadline to Oct. 19.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat representing counties hit by flooding after Hurricane Matthew, asked the state elections board to reconsider extending the deadline.

“It would be a travesty to look at the dire situation that is being endured by people in these communities who are fighting against unparalleled flooding and not grant them additional days so that they can register to vote and exercise their fundamental right in November,” Butterfield said in a statement.

Only people who register by Friday will have a choice between casting ballots on Election Day and during the early voting period that begins Oct. 20. But those who are not registered by Friday will have more chances. They can register and vote at the same time during early voting.

“Despite the devastating effects of the hurricane, we want all eligible North Carolinians to know the many options available to register and vote in this election,” Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, said in a statement.

The state is giving some leeway to people who return their voter registration forms by mail, because flooding has disrupted postal service in some counties.

Elections boards will process registration forms that are delivered by mail by Oct. 19 and dated by the voter on or before Oct. 14, the original deadline.

Asked at a news conference about extending the registration deadline, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, said the early voting period will offer enough opportunity for people to register after Friday’s deadline.

“Voting is very important,” Blue said, but people who don’t have food or a place to live aren’t thinking about casting ballots.

“Survival is the top thing on their mind,” he said.

The state elections board said counties are still evaluating the storm’s impact on early voting sites and Election Day precincts. Some counties are looking for alternative sites.

It’s hard to say how the hurricane and flooding will affect elections. Floodwaters are expanding and retreating and the full extent of damage is unknown. Studies showed Superstorm Sandy depressed voter turnout in New Jersey and Connecticut in 2012.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner

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