Florida extends voter registration deadline; state investigates website outages

TALLAHASSEE – Florida officials said Tuesday they were investigating an “unprecedented” surge in traffic to the state’s voter registration portal that resulted in outages on the site, and prompted the state to extend the registration deadline by several hours.

Problems with the state’s website on Monday night sparked a lawsuit among constituencies, raised questions about whether the state had adequately prepared for a spate of last-minute registrations, and left some Floridians concerned about theirs ahead of the November election Election status back. Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee earlier Tuesday raised the question of whether there had been an “intentional act of sabotage” against the site, but later said that no such evidence had been identified.

As a result of the failures, Lee announced at noon that Floridians would have until 7 p.m. Tuesday to vote, which some groups said was insufficient.

“An extension of several hours leaves little time to provide meaningful notification and opportunity to the thousands of people affected across the state,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Civil Rights Lawyers’ Committee.

On Tuesday evening it was unclear how many voters who were excluded on Monday would benefit from the extension.

Florida – Today’s decision to extend the voter registration deadline is a win for our democracy. If you haven’t already registered to vote, go to https://t.co/uAcduFQlKF tonight before 7 p.m. ET to do so.

That choice is too important to stay outside.

– Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 6, 2020

Lee said Tuesday that when the first deadline expired at midnight on Monday, the state’s online voter registration site, RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov, had an “unprecedented” number of 1.1 million requests per hour.

She said the Florida State Department had contacted state and federal law enforcement agencies to see if there were “deliberate acts against the voting process” that caused or contributed to the failures. However, on Tuesday evening, she said her office had found no evidence of malfunction or malicious activity on the website. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide additional information as it develops. “

A spokeswoman for the Tampa FBI office would neither confirm nor deny if she had opened an investigation into the website problems. A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said there was no investigation into the matter.

Turnout and interest in these elections are expected to be high, especially in swing state Florida, where polls show a narrow gap between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

In addition to registering online, voters can submit applications to their district election office manager via their local driver’s license office or the tax office, or submit an application by mail if postmarked by Tuesday, October 6th.

The government of Governor Ron DeSantis has asked tax collectors and electoral supervisors to stay open later Tuesday to process incoming voter registration applications.

DeSantis told reporters Tuesday the aim of the extension was “to provide a similar timeframe as we had the trouble yesterday,” and said the state saw problems around 5pm

A number of voting groups, including New Florida Majority, the Advancement Project and Dream Defenders, filed a lawsuit against DeSantis and Lee on Tuesday. The groups said they are aiming for at least two days of extended online voter registration.

“The right of the people to participate in our democracy and to express themselves at the ballot box should be protected,” Andrea Mercado, executive director of the New Florida Majority Education Fund, said in a statement, “especially if (online voter registration) is one of them. ” The only way for people to safely register to vote during this pandemic. “

The lawsuit said one of the plaintiffs, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, registered 219 new voters per hour on the last day of registration before the website ran into trouble.

A larger coalition of constituencies, including the Florida League of Women Voters, All Voting is Local Florida, ACLU Florida, and the Florida NAACP, had sent a letter to DeSantis and Lee Tuesday morning requesting the extension of the registration deadline for two voters Days until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, October 7th.

The coalition’s letter said several organizations had asked the state for years about the security and stability of the online voter registration system. It was found that All Voting Is Local had asked the state to use an independent provider to stress test the system.

The issues the state’s online registration tool faced on Monday evening reflected some of the issues the site faced prior to the October 2018 registration deadline.

Local election officials have previously expressed concerns to state officials about technical difficulties and failed attempts to navigate the online registration tool. This emerges from documents that American Oversight, a liberal surveillance group, received upon request from public records.

Flagler County’s polling officer Kaiti Lenhart wrote to state officials in July 2018 that she had encountered error messages on the website and said it would take “multiple attempts” to successfully complete the voter registration process.

Okaloosa County Election Officer Paul Lux raised similar concerns about the website in July 2018.

Lux said Monday’s spending was a reminder of the website glitches he had ahead of the 2018 general election. But he said complaints about problems with the website were “single digits” on Monday.

State records indicate that the Florida State Department requested $ 300,058 from state lawmakers during the 2020 legislature to “ensure continued support for the Florida Voter Registration System.” However, the agency didn’t respond when asked what they did with the registration portal after 2018.

“I don’t know what they fixed or added, but whatever they did still felt short-lived,” Lux said Tuesday.

Connected: The Florida voter registration website is having problems hours before the deadline

16-year-old Elaine Chen and her parents, Jun Zi and Zhi Lin, huddled around their kitchen counter in Parkland late Monday evening with a buffet of cell phones, laptops and wireless routers.

Chen’s parents, who emigrated from China nearly two decades ago, have been US citizens for 15 years. The Chens decided that this was the year they would register and vote in the November 3rd general election.

Elaine Chen said the trial started around 3 p.m. when she was able to help her parents fill out the first of three pages on the website. However, the second page did not load. They tried for a while, updating the pages, using different web browsers on different devices, and finally taking a break.

This lasted for several hours and at 11 p.m. the Chens decided to give up. When Chen learned that the deadline would be extended, she jumped on her computer between classes and tried again.

“They realized that if Asian Americans don’t vote, elected officials won’t do anything for them,” Chen said.

Catricia Fernandez, a 47-year-old who lived in New Tampa, had similar problems. She is a registered voter in New York and tried to register in Florida, where she moved two years ago in search of a lower cost of living.

She spent two hours registering on Monday but continued to receive error messages.

Fernandez said she would keep trying Tuesday and consider checking in in person if she has to. At around 1:30 p.m., she said the website was still having problems loading.

“That’s my voice,” she said. “I’ll do what I have to.”

The Times / Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

The Voter Guide is coming soon: The Tampa Bay Times will publish a special election section on Sunday, October 18, with information on local races. You can also access our Know Your Candidates guide at tampabay.com/voterguide starting on Sunday October 11th.

AMENDMENTS: State constitutional amendments to the 2020 vote, explained.

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DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE VOTING IN FLORIDA? WE HAVE THE ANSWERS: We’ve put together information on voter registration deadlines, rules for voting by email, and more.

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