A federal judge has rejected the Florida Democratic Party's request to let people cast a ballot during early voting even if their registration application hasn't been verified.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said Thursday morning there is no evidence that state officials are dragging their feet in verifying applications.
Hillsborough's Supervisor of Elections, Craig Latimer, testified to Judge Walker by phone Thursday about the work being done to verify the applications that came in just before the registration deadline.
Judge Walker had told Florida to push the deadline back a week because of Hurricane Matthew, which caused damage to only a few select Florida cities, but disrupted daily life for many Floridians in the days leading up to the storm as they prepared for the storm by boarding up homes and evacuating the area. The storm is also credited with taking the lives of 13 people in Florida.
"The Florida Democratic Party wanted to mandate that all the registrations be done by, I believe, Sunday. Which is impossible, clearly impossible," Pasco's Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley told ABC Action News on Thursday.
Corley says verifications take time, and for the counties that have Early Voting start on October 24 (including Hillsborough County and Pinellas County), the Sunday deadline would not have been enough time.
The solution: provisional ballots.
"Same identical ballot but it does not go into the tabulator," explains Corley, "it goes into a sealed envelope which comes back to the Supervisor of Elections Office securely and allows us to do the research."
Those provisional ballots are counted a couple days later, says Corley, who insists they are counted no matter what, even if the election is not close.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott praised Walker for a "common sense ruling" and said it was "disappointing the Democratic Party wasted the court's time in a partisan power grab."
Scott defended the state law of verifying the identity of voters before adding them to the rolls, saying it was "crucial to make sure we don't have voter fraud."
More than 60,000 Floridians responded to the new deadline by registering to vote during the extended period.
But now state officials acknowledge that they won't be able to verify their applications until Oct. 29 — five days after early voting is scheduled to start in 50 out of 67 counties including Miami-Dade, Duval, and Orange.