Will Hurricane Matthew Affect the Presidential Race?

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Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Melbourne, Florida, on September 27, 2016.Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

On top of its “potentially catastrophic” impact on Florida, Hurricane Matthew also stands to affect the upcoming presidential election. On Thursday, according to the Miami Herald, Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican who supports Donald Trump, rejected a request from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief to extend the state’s voter-registration deadline past Tuesday on account of the storm.

“Everybody has had a lot of time to register,” Scott said. “On top of that, we have lots of opportunities to vote: early voting, absentee voting, Election Day. So I don’t intend to make any changes.”

Liberal-leaning political groups had called off registration drives in the state in the last few days prior to the deadline, as both campaigns suspended advertising there — including an ill-advised Clinton campaign ad buy on the Weather Channel that the campaign quickly scuttled after getting called out by former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

Voter registration typically surges in the final days, the Herald adds, noting that 50,000 Floridians signed up in the five days before the deadline in 2012. The Democrats have registered more new Florida voters this year than the GOP, but admit they haven’t met their registration goals.

In a blog post at Slate, University of California, Irvine, law professor Rick Hasen considered the worst possible outcome of this situation, which, it turns out, is very bad. Florida law actually gives the legislature, not the governor, the power to change voter-registration deadlines or other election rules — a point that factored into the litigation over the outcome of the 2000 election.

If many Floridians are prevented from registering or voting because of the hurricane, if the vote there is close on November 8, and if Florida proves decisive in the Electoral College, Hasen conjectures, we could be looking at another presidential election decided in the courts. Worse, if the hurricane and its aftermath cause widespread voting irregularities, as Hurricane Sandy did in New York and New Jersey in 2012, Trump supporters — already primed by their candidate to expect a “rigged” election — may not accept the outcome.

The Clinton campaign has not yet revealed any next steps it may take (such as litigation) to push Florida to extend the deadline. Under state law, registration applications postmarked by Tuesday will still be accepted.

Meanwhile, Senator Marco Rubio is taking heat from Florida Democrats over a fundraising email his campaign sent out to donors on Thursday, Politico reports, though his campaign said it was an “old email from 9 days ago that was resent by our digital vendor to part of our list.” Rubio, who is running for reelection in a competitive race, has been urging Floridians to prepare for the storm and soliciting donations to the Red Cross.

And, of course, in the right-wing fever swamps of Matt Drudge’s imagination, the Obama administration is lying about the storm’s intensity altogether to con Americans into buying the vast liberal conspiracy that is climate change.