SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A federal judge was asked Wednesday for a second time to order Georgia to extend the voter registration deadline in coastal areas that evacuated for Hurricane Matthew.
The hearing came just days after the judge ordered a brief extension for a single storm-stricken county.
U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. said he would rule later in the day after hearing the American Civil Liberties Union's motion to give six additional days for registration in six coastal Georgia counties that Gov. Nathan Deal ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm.
"There are real people who suffered real harm by the failure of the state to extend the registration deadline," ACLU attorney Kathleen Burch told the judge.
The ACLU filed suit on behalf of two Georgia teens who had not yet registered and the state NAACP, which planned registration drives during the final week to sign up new voters for the Nov. 8 elections. The suit argued the Oct. 6 mandatory evacuation order closed local elections offices and effectively prevented residents of coastal counties with large African-American populations from joining the voter rolls during the busy final days.
Moore noted he had already ordered Chatham County, which includes Savannah, to keep registering new voters last Friday. That extension lapsed Tuesday. He also noted Georgia's remaining five coastal counties — Bryan, Liberty, McIntosh, Glynn and Camden — reopened their registration offices after the storm for at least one day before the original Oct. 11 deadline.
"The state wasn't responsible for the hurricane," Moore said. "How are they treating citizens — minorities or otherwise — any differently?"
Attorneys for the state argued another extension would burden county election officials who are already busy conducting early voting. Cristina Correia, an assistant state attorney general, told the judge anyone registered after Oct. 11 would fail to be included in voter lists automatically generated by the state. County officials, she said, would have to create separate lists of new voters who signed up later for each polling precinct.
"It may not appear at first blush that going in and having to check two lists is much of a problem," Correia said. "But the less automation there is in such a process, the more human error there is. That's what the state is trying to avoid."
Hurricane Matthew disrupted voter registration across the Southeast coast. New voters were also granted more time to sign up in Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina.