TALLAHASSEE, Florida – Florida extended its voter registration deadline after the state’s online portal crashed under the weight of heavy traffic hours before October 5th.
Registration is open for a further seven hours from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Foreign Secretary Laurel Lee said in a written statement on Tuesday.
The move was intended to short-circuit a lawsuit filed by civil rights and electoral groups early Tuesday.
Lee met with Governor Ron DeSantis on Tuesday to discuss issues with the portal. In a written statement, she said that the website’s failure appears to be related to “unprecedented volume and traffic” and that her office “will work with our law enforcement partners at the federal and state levels to ensure this is not a deliberate act against the voting process. ”
The portal was closed on Monday afternoon, hours before the midnight deadline for registration.
Democrats called the failure a deliberate effort to stifle registration ahead of the November election. With President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden on the ballot, high voter turnout is expected in Trump’s adopted home. Trump is unlikely to win a second term if he fails to win in Florida, a presidential battlefield where polls say Biden has a slight lead.
Florida’s decision to extend voter registration comes a day after a federal judge extended the registration deadline for Monday in Arizona to October 23rd to access the Internet.
Lee, in a tweet posted around 5 p.m. Monday evening said the portal was down for about 15 minutes. But the problems continued throughout the evening as the midnight deadline loomed.
A trio of organizations, including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, called on the state to extend the voter registration for another day.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Civil Rights Lawyers’ Committee, said Tuesday morning that her organization had received no response from the DeSantis administration and was preparing to file a lawsuit.
“We are planning a lawsuit to defend the rights of those affected,” wrote Clarke in an email.
Florida Commissioner for Agriculture, Nikki Fried, the only nationally elected Democrat, sent DeSantis a letter asking for an extension as well.
“This is about constitutional freedoms, not politics,” she wrote. “It is the duty of the state to ensure that the website works as expected.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz compared problems with the portal to the technical problems of the unemployment system in Florida that prevented thousands of people from signing up for unemployment benefits in the spring when the coronavirus pandemic hit the state economy.
“The total incompetence of Governor Ron DeSantis to crash the state’s voter registration website on the very last day in order to register for the upcoming November elections is sadly completely believable,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “His administrative sucker for running the state unemployment system telegraphed the ineptitude of today’s executive branch.”
State lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to set up an online registration system in 2015, despite resistance from then-Republican Ken Detzner. The portal was launched in 2017.
So far this year almost 213,000 Floridians have registered via the portal. That puts traffic in second place on the site after the state Ministry of Road Safety and Motor Vehicles, which manages driver’s licenses. Florida has more than 14 million active registered voters.
The online site has had problems in the past. Potential voters struggled to access the website in March. And in 2019, ahead of National Voter Registration Day, the website went offline for maintenance, which led to heavy criticism from Democrats.
Brad Ashwell, Florida state director for All Voting is Local, said his organization had warned state officials they needed to fix the faulty website.
“The failure lies right with Governor DeSantis and Secretary Lee,” Ashwell said in a statement. “Florida voters deserve better.”