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Activists worry Hurricane Matthew could dampen Florida voter registrations


Hurricane Matthew could disrupt an expected surge in Florida voter registrations ahead of the state's Tuesday deadline, several Democratic-leaning political groups told the Miami Herald on Thursday.

The number of registrations usually rises right around the deadline for closing the voter rolls for a presidential election, and activists had planned to sign people up throughout the weekend at school, football games and churches. Now, those plans are mostly on hold.

"It's totally shut us down," said Gihan Perera, head of Florida New Majority, which had teams ready to go out in South Florida and Jacksonville. He and the other activists asked to a Herald inquiry about canceled drives.

Instead of registering voters, the activists are staying put to get refuge from the approaching storm. Cancellations began Wednesday: When President Barack Obama called into Miami's 99 Jamz radio station, host Felisha Monet told him they'd called off a registration drive.

Engage Miami Civic Fund had intended to register students at Florida International University and Miami Dade College, as well as at several high schools, Thursday and Friday. All of it got called off, as did high school football games Friday and several Saturday events. The group is trying to reschedule for Monday and Tuesday but acknowledged the busy weekend events will be lost.

"This was one of our most scheduled weeks and weekends of the fall for voter registration," executive director Rob Biskupic-Knight said in an email to the Herald.

"I also worry that the hurricane understandably will distract people who maybe have been planning to register on their own through the mail or make visits to DMVs, libraries, etc," he wrote. "We hope there aren't too many people that won't have a chance to register before Tuesday's deadline because of the storm, but there's certainly likely to be some, if not many."

In Orlando, NCLR, the National Council of La Raza, suspended canvassing Thursday, according to Jared Nordlund, the group's Florida senior strategist for civic engagement.

"Should be back running by Friday afternoon," he said in an email.

Liberal groups have been registering new voters for months. But the final push is expected, say, at Saturday's game between Florida State and the University of Miami (which, for now, is still on).

"Right at the end," Perera said, "people feel the urgency to do something."

UPDATE: Hillary Clinton's campaign chief wants Florida to extend its registration deadline. More here.