Advocates want Florida to extend voter registration deadline

The Florida Department of State said Tuesday it is working with state and federal law enforcement to look at whether there were any “deliberate acts against the voting process” that caused or contributed to outages Monday night to the state’s voter registration website.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee said Tuesday morning that the state is “exploring all options” to make sure all eligible people can register to vote in time for the 2020 general election after users encountered slow responses and error messages in the final hours before the registration deadline. Some users have reported being unable to register in time for the deadline.

Lee met with Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday morning to brief him on the “challenges we encountered last night due to unprecedented volume and traffic to our website,” Lee said in a statement.

She did not provide further details on whether any “deliberate act” was suspected. But she said an update would be coming soon.

Fred Piccolo Jr., spokesman for DeSantis, also tweeted Tuesday morning that an announcement was “coming soon on voter registration.”

A number of voting rights groups are calling for Florida’s voter registration cutoff to be extended after the problems Monday night with RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov.

Florida’s deadline to register in order to be eligible to vote in the 2020 general election was midnight Monday. Paper applications that were mailed in had to be postmarked by Monday.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU of Florida and the Campaign Legal Center sent a letter on Monday night to Brad McVay, the Florida Department of State’s general counsel, pushing for the deadline to be extended until midnight Tuesday.

“We are contemplating further action,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, when asked for an update Tuesday morning. “We are prepared to use every tool in our arsenal to stand up for voters impacted.”

Brad Ashwell, Florida state director of voting rights group All Voting is Local, said his organization was hearing reports well into Monday night that there were problems with the voter registration website. Ashwell said different groups are debating how long to ask for the deadline to be extended. He noted that there would need to be time to get the word out about any deadline extension, and added that there was no guarantee at this point that the website wouldn’t crash again if the deadline were extended.

Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said her organization and others are looking for anyone who was not able to register Monday because of the website issues.

She said a lawsuit “is being explored” if the state doesn’t extend the registration deadline.

“I feel hopeful that the Secretary of State would extend it,” Brigham said. “But based on the track record of Gov. DeSantis, we’ll see. He has the final word.”

Brigham on Monday said she spoke with a state senator from each party, Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, and Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, and they each told her they support extending the deadline.

“The state had months to prepare for the last day of voter registration,” Brigham said Tuesday morning. “It’s quite frankly very concerning.”

Monday is not the first time the state has had glitches with its voter registration website. Groups like All Voting is Local had for months been questioning the state how it was preparing the website to handle an influx of users without crashing.

In June, Department of State spokesman Mark Ard told the Tampa Bay Times that his department had “rigorously tested the online voter registration site, RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov, for capacity and we are confident that the system will be able to process and support Florida’s voters and potential voters registering or updating their voter registration before the August and November elections.”

There are multiple ways for Floridians to register to vote, including by doing so at their local driver’s license office or at their county supervisor of elections office or by mailing in a registration form. But the state’s website has been touted as the easiest way to register to vote, and was likely the most viable option for many Floridians in the last few hours before the deadline.

On Tuesday, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — the state’s highest-ranking elected Democrat — sent a letter to the governor urging him to extend the voter registration deadline by at least 24 hours.

“The deadline exists for a reason — and it is the right of every person in Florida who chooses to register to vote to do so up until that deadline,” Fried wrote.

Herald /TimesTallahassee Bureau reporters Ana Ceballos and Mary Ellen Klas, and Miami Herald reporter Samantha J. Gross contributed to this report.

This story will be updated.

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