After voter registration website debacle, state extends deadline

Florida’s secretary of state issued a directive Tuesday to reopen the state’s voter registration window until 7 p.m. to register.



a person standing in front of a sign: A voter exits the polling precinct after casting their ballot in Florida's primary election at Precinct 321 on Aug. 18, 2020 in Tampa, Fla.


© Octavio Jones/Getty Images
A voter exits the polling precinct after casting their ballot in Florida’s primary election at Precinct 321 on Aug. 18, 2020 in Tampa, Fla.

The decision came hours after voters across the state encountered problems with the registration website, registertovoteflorida.gov, as the clock ticked toward the initial deadline on Monday.

“We are working with local Supervisors of Elections and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to ensure that all eligible registrants have the ability to submit a voter registration application by 7:00 pm this evening,” Secretary of State Laurel Lee said in a public notice released Tuesday afternoon.

According to Lee, the website was inundated with over a million requests per hour in the final hours before the midnight deadline.

“We will work with our state and federal law-enforcement partners to ensure this was not a deliberate act against the voting process,” she added.

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Just before 6 p.m. Monday, Lee announced on Twitter that the website’s functions had been restored and that a “high volume” of visitors caused delays for about 15 minutes.

Hours after that announcement, however, the website was still giving people fits.

Destinee Morin, a recent high school graduate from St. Cloud, who is already registered, spent much of Monday unsuccessfully refreshing the website in an attempt to help register two friends, both of them teenagers and would-be first-time voters.

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Morin said she had problems since mid-afternoon.

“If the website is down, that’s not fair. A lot of people went on that website today because they didn’t realize it was their last day to register,” she said Monday. “I really hope they extend it.”



a man holding a stop sign on the side of a fence: A voter exits the polling precinct after casting their ballot in Florida's primary election at Precinct 321 on Aug. 18, 2020 in Tampa, Fla.


© Octavio Jones/Getty Images
A voter exits the polling precinct after casting their ballot in Florida’s primary election at Precinct 321 on Aug. 18, 2020 in Tampa, Fla.

Carl Morelli, a 23-year old Gainesville resident looking to update his registration after moving to a new apartment in August, tried the website for the first time at 9:15 p.m. Monday but was met with glitches after completing the first step. After more than two hours of switching internet browsers and even computers, he almost gave up.

“It was getting down to the last 10 minutes and I was about ready to throw in the towel, but I said, ‘Let me just give it a few more tries,'” he told ABC News.

At 11:55 p.m., he successfully registered.

“I was really happy and excited that I was going to be able to vote,” he said.

Others weren’t so lucky.

Kyle Redula, 20, a student at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, was eager to register to vote for the first time, only to find himself struggling for hours with the website Monday. As the deadline came and went, he was still receiving error messages.

“It’s definitely something that I was looking forward to,” he told ABC News. “Considering this is the Department of State website and it’s been giving me problems, it’s been frustrating.”

Redula tried the website again Tuesday afternoon after his classes and was able to successfully register.

“It went smoothly,” he wrote in a text. “No problems whatsoever.”

The issues with the website prompted angry responses on Twitter from Democrats in the state, among them Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, and Florida’s lone statewide elected Democrat.

“The voter registration deadline is just hours away, and the online voter registration website is broken,” she wrote. Addressing Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, Fried called the situation “unacceptable” and urged him to “fix it.”

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In a later post, Fried wrote that the developments Monday night amounted to “voter suppression” and called on Lee and DeSantis to extend the registration deadline.

After the announcement of the extension on Tuesday, a coalition of voting rights groups filed a lawsuit against the governor and secretary of state, calling for the deadline to be extended an additional two days.

The group, which includes New Florida Majority, Dream Defenders and Organize Florida, wrote in a press release that the new window “is simply not enough time for voting rights groups to re-engage canvassers and volunteers and to educate voters that they can try to register online again.”

The lawsuit will go before a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Another group civil rights organizations sent a letter to the Department of State Monday night demanding that the deadline be extended until midnight Tuesday. The letter, signed by Julile Houk of the Lawyers’ Committee, threatened “other legal remedies” if their demand was not met.

After the extension was announced Tuesday, a representative from Campaign Legal Center, one of the organizations, told ABC News that they are “still discussing immediate action.”

The seven-hour timeline is “not enough” for people who can’t make the window because of “work, school, or other responsibilities,” said the representative, Blair Bowie, legal counsel and Restore Your Vote manager.

“At the same time, this was an important step and will allow many eligible Floridians to register today and have a voice in November,” Bowie said.

The decision to extend the deadline to Tuesday evening drew support from Republicans in the state. Joe Gruters, chair of the Florida GOP, told ABC News in a text that it was “the right call.”

Here’s a state-by-state guide to voting in the age of COVID-19.

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