Federal Judge Rules Against Extending Florida’s Voter Registration Deadline


Image via AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

By Associated Press

October 9, 2020

With Florida’s 29 electoral votes at stake, the case has national implications.

US District Court Judge Mark E. Walker denied a motion to extend the voter registration period in Florida after the system crashed on Monday, which might have prevented thousands of potential voters from taking part in November’s presidential election.

In a 29-page ruling on Friday morning, Walker said his decision was “an incredibly close call” but added that “the state’s interest in preventing chaos in its already precarious—and perennially chaotic—election outweighs the substantial burden imposed on the right to vote.”

RELATED: Voting Rights Groups Warn FL Officials to Prepare for Election Day, After Voter Site Crash

Walker shared in the unease of voter advocacy groups even as he ruled against them, expressing his opinion with sharply worded criticisms of the state.

“In so ruling, this Court notes that every man who has stepped foot on the Moon launched from the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida. Yet, Florida has failed to figure out how to run an election properly—a task simpler than rocket science,” the judge wrote.

On Thursday, Walker said he would issue a ruling quickly, perhaps just hours after hearing arguments from lawyers representing Florida’s Secretary of State and voter advocacy groups who say thousands of Floridians could be disenfranchised when state election servers failed after being overwhelmed by unprecedented traffic on Monday, the last day to register to vote.

After consulting with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Secretary of State Laurel Lee allowed additional registrations for seven hours on Tuesday.

“With the public sounding the alarm, the Secretary of State decided to implement a half measure,” Walker wrote. “She hastily and briefly extended the registration period and ordered Florida’s supervisors of election to accept applications submitted by the Secretary’s new ‘book closing’ deadline.”

Walker wrote that Lee’s “cure” had at least one major flaw: She did not notify the public until the afternoon of the date of her new deadline.

“This left less than seven hours for potential voters to somehow become aware of the news and ensure that they properly submitted their voter registration applications, all while also participating in their normal workday, school, family, and caregiving responsibilities,” Walker wrote.

Data filed by the state indicates that 50,000 people registered during the extended time period. Based on previous trends, the judge noted, perhaps more than 20,000 additional people might have also registered to vote if they had been able to access the system.

On Thursday, Walker took umbrage at a state lawyer’s argument that other venues were available to register to vote, including in-person at an elections office or by mail.

“Are you seriously taking the position that if it shut down for hours, and 50,000 or 60,000 people don’t get to register, that’s a minor thing? For the life of me, I don’t understand that argument,” Walker said.

“You all knew people were using this website based on past years. You knew thousands of people were using it, thousands of Floridians … actual US citizens, and it failed for hours,” he said.

With Florida’s 29 electoral votes at stake, the case has national implications.

Florida’s chief information officer said Wednesday that misconfigured computer servers—not a cyberattack—were to blame for the crash of the state’s voter registration system as the deadline approached for enrolling to cast ballots in next month’s presidential election.

A spokesman for DeSantis, Fred Piccolo, told the AP on Friday that “the governor took quick and decisive action to ensure voter access to multiple registration options including online, in person, or through the mail. There was no basis for federal courts to get involved and the governor expected this outcome.”

The judge, however, suggested that the failures gave DeSantis little to be proud of.

“This case is about how a state failed its citizens,” he wrote. “Potential voters attempted to perform their civic duty, to exercise their fundamental right, only to be thwarted, once again, by a state that seemingly is never prepared for an election.”

Voting rights groups argued that the additional time was inadequate and sued the state to reopen the registration period for an additional two days, which would give more time for Floridians to be notified of the extension and allow them to register through the state’s electronic portal.

The state countered that extending voter registration again would create confusion, arguing that a further extension could also interfere with county election offices around the state as they process vote-by-mail ballots and administer early voting.

Walker pushed voting rights groups to justify why a two-day extension was necessary, when the online portal was only down for part of a day.

The groups include Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and others.

During his questioning, Walker noted the high interest in the November election.

According to data submitted by Florida officials, there were about 70,100 people who successfully accessed the portal on Monday—the bulk of them able to get through before the system slowed to a crawl at about 5 p.m.

In the last seven hours of Monday, only about 8,100 people successfully registered to vote, requested new voter registration cards or made changes to their existing voter information.

RELATED: Double Checking Your FL Voter Registration Is Vital This Year. Here’s How To Do It.

Walker suggested that there could have been far more people who were trying to register.

Indeed, state officials said there were about 49,000 people trying to access the system at the peak of the slowdown.



CATEGORIES: Elections | Floricua | Florida | Voting


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