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Misguided politics surround Hurricane Matthew's U.S. arrival

As Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) balks at extending a voter-registration deadline, conservative media push hurricane-related conspiracy theories.
A view of the atmosphere of Hurricane Matthew prior to impacting Florida, Oct. 6, 2016,  in Deerfield Beach, Fla. (Photo by Larry Marano/REX/Shutterstock)
A view of the atmosphere of Hurricane Matthew prior to impacting Florida, Oct. 6, 2016,  in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Millions of Americans are watching Hurricane Matthew closely, and for good reason. The extremely dangerous hurricane has already proven to be a deadly storm, killing at least 122 people in Haiti alone, and it has the potential to do significant damage in the United States.But Matthew's threat also coincides with a competitive election season, and while the storm obviously has nothing to do with politics, there is some unfortunate overlap between the two.In Florida, for example, Gov. Rick Scott (R) has been under pressure to extend the state's voter-registration deadline in light of the storm and evacuations. As of yesterday, the governor has refused, telling reporters, "I'm not going to extend it. Everybody has had a lot of time to register. 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."As Slate explained that's hardly the ideal response under the circumstances.

Really? The appropriate response, instead of dismissing the idea out of hand, would be to say: "We're going to do our best to make sure everyone is safe and sound and everyone who wants to get to vote has that chance. We'll evaluate what, if any, changes need to be made once we're through this."Or try replacing "voter registration deadline" with "tax deadline" and see how people react. Or with "final exam." People have jobs and lives and, you know, need a deadline to do things. If you think that last minute registration isn't a thing or doesn't affect a significant group of people, you're wrong. "Elections supervisors typically see a surge in voter interest immediately before the registration closes," according to the Miami Herald. "About 50,000 people registered during the final five days in 2012, according to University of Florida professor Daniel A. Smith, who studies Florida voting trends."

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), to her credit, did extend her state's voter-registration deadline.In conservative media, meanwhile, the reactions to Matthew are even more discouraging. Rush Limbaugh told his audience this week that government officials are "playing games" with storm forecasts as part of an elaborate conspiracy that has something to do with climate change and political propaganda."It's in the interest of the left to have destructive hurricanes because then they can blame it on climate change, which they can desperately continue trying to sell," Limbaugh said. As part of the same tirade, the far-right host added, "[T]he National Hurricane Center is part of the National Weather Service, which is part of the Commerce Department, which is part of the Obama administration, which by definition has been tainted."Matt Drudge, meanwhile, is also pushing the line that "the hurricane's potentially catastrophic impact is being exaggerated ... so the government can prove some kind of point about climate change."In addition to being transparently bonkers, nonsense like this is potentially dangerous. If members of the public deliberately ignore guidance from emergency-response officials, because those people have been told by conservative media figures that some kind of conspiratorial government scheme is unfolding, the costs may be severe.As for Donald Trump, the Republican presidential hopeful has kept an even keel so far, tweeting yesterday, "Praying for everyone in Florida. Hoping the hurricane dissipates, but in any event, please be careful."In recent years, however, Trump's hurricane-related commentary has been far more ridiculous.