Judge orders voter registration in Chatham extended to Oct. 18

A judge in Chatham County has ordered voter registration in the coastal county extended to this coming Tuesday, granting a voting-rights group a victory over state officials.

Voter advocates filed the suit just before midnight Wednesday, arguing that an emergency extension of the registration deadline was needed because some coastal residents forced to flee Hurricane Matthew last weekend did not have enough opportunity to submit applications.

"The right to vote is the most important in our democracy," Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, said. "Would-be voters in Chatham County were denied a full and fair opportunity to register to vote in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Today's decision extending the voter registration deadline helps ensure that eligible voters will be able to participate this election cycle.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp has instructed county officials to comply with the order, his spokeswoman said.

Local government offices were closed in Chatham for what would have been the last six days of the voter registration period that ended Tuesday. State officials, including Kemp, argued that residents in the affected areas had many other ways to register, including online.

The Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the New Georgia Project brought the suit, with help from the Lawyers’ Committee. The groups all said in the suit that the storm and related office closures forced them to cancel or curtail planned registration efforts in Chatham that otherwise could have resulted in people joining the voter rolls.

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