- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 19, 2016

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - A federal judge Wednesday refused to order a second extension of Georgia’s voter registration deadline in coastal areas that evacuated for Hurricane Matthew.

The decision came just days after the same judge ordered a brief extension for a single storm-stricken county.

U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. denied 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. Moore ruled that granting the ACLU’s request after early voting had already begun would threaten to disrupt operations at polling stations.

“At some point, Georgia’s constitutionally valid voter registration deadline must be respected,” Moore wrote. “Otherwise, Georgia’s ability to conduct efficient and accurate elections at the local, state, and national level becomes irrevocably compromised. “

The ACLU sued 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.

“The impact is hundreds of people are not going to be able to vote,” ACLU attorney Kathleen Burch said of the judge’s order, noting that Chatham County, which includes Savannah, registered an estimated 3,000 additional voters during the brief extension already granted.

Burch said she did not know if the ACLU would appeal.

Moore 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.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Georgia’s top elections official, applauded the judge’s ruling.

“Siding with the ACLU would have wasted valuable resources and caused unnecessary disruptions with voting already underway,” Kemp said in a statement.

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.

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.

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