Democrats say Florida voter registration website crash was no accident


Florida extended its voter registration deadline Tuesday after its website crashed Monday, frustrating users with error messages and spinning circles until just after the midnight deadline.

Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee announced during a news conference the deadline to register to vote would be extended to 7 p.m. Tuesday, and her office was working with state and federal law enforcement to determine whether any “deliberate acts against the voting process” were involved in Monday’s outages.

Lee, however, said the likely cause for the collapse was the website being overwhelmed when it was accessed by an “unprecedented” 1.1 million requests per hour Monday afternoon.

As with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s CONNECT unemployment portal that crashed in March, Florida’s voter registration website has been criticized as inadequate since it was launched in 2017 and experienced technical difficulties on the October 2018 registration deadline as well.

Democrats said Gov. Ron DeSantis should have anticipated a crush of new voters registering online and bulked up the site before, not after, the inevitable happened. Others said the crash was no accident.

Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Peñalosa, recounting repeated issues with the site, called the failure to remedy its known faults an act of “voter suppression” in a Monday night tweet.

“The voter registration deadline in Florida is just hours away, and the online voter registration website is broken,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide-elected Democrat, tweeted as the site remained down Monday night even after Lee issued a statement that it was back up. “This is unacceptable [Gov. Ron DeSantis]. Fix it now.”

“History is repeating itself, and Florida voters continue to bear the burden of ineptitude as a result of negligence,” All Voting is Local Florida Director Brad Ashwell said in a statement. “The online voter registration website has a history of crashing just before or on the deadline when Floridians can register.”

Ashwell said All Voting is Local had made “repeated attempts” to work with Florida “to fix the faulty website,” even offering to pay for a private vendor to stress test the system, but the state wasn’t interested.

“No aspiring voter should be silenced because the state can’t maintain a functioning website,” Ashwell said.

A coalition of voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, All Voting is Local Florida, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Florida NAACP, sent a letter to DeSantis and Lee on Tuesday, asking for the voter registration deadline be extended until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

“Florida’s online voter registration system has unfortunately broken repeatedly at precisely the moment it is needed most – the high volume days just before the voter registration deadline, or in this case, just hours before the book closing deadline,” the groups wrote in the letter.

DeSantis and Lee ignored the request, prompting another group of voting rights advocates, including New Florida Majority, the Advancement Project, Dream Defenders and the Florida Immigrant Coalition, to file a lawsuit Tuesday against them.

“Florida must be held accountable,” New Florida Majority Executive Director Andrea Mercado said in a statement. “The people’s right to participate in our democracy and express themselves at the ballot box should be protected, especially when (online voter registration) is one of the only ways for people to safely register to vote during this pandemic.”

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