Florida is extending the voter registration deadline in this year’s 2020 general election following problems Monday night with the state’s online registration system.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee announced midday Tuesday that the deadline would be extended to 7 p.m. Tuesday for registration online, in person or by mail.
The original deadline to register to vote had been midnight Monday. But as that deadline neared, users encountered slow responses and error messages on the state’s online voter registration site, RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov.
Lee said Tuesday that, during the last few hours, the site had been accessed by an “unprecedented” 1.1 million requests per hour.
She said the Florida Department of State 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.
“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 p.m. this evening,” Lee said in a statement.
In addition to registering online, voters can submit applications to their county supervisor of elections offices, through their local driver’s license offices or tax collector’s office or mail an application as long as it is postmarked by Tuesday, Oct. 6.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office has asked that all tax collectors’ offices extend their office hours until 7 p.m. in order to accept voter registration applications. The state will work with other offices about extending their hours Tuesday to assist people registering to vote.
Lee said anyone who already registered to vote online after the deadline would be included in being eligible to vote in the Nov. 3 general election.
Lee also asked anyone not trying to register to vote to stay off the online voter registration site.
Voting rights groups apply pressure
A number of voting rights groups had called for Florida’s voter registration cutoff to be extended multiple days after the problems Monday night with RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov.
On Tuesday, a coalition of voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, All Voting is Local Florida, ACLU Florida and the Florida NAACP, sent a letter to DeSantis and Lee demanding that the voter registration deadline be extended two days, until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7.
“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.
Brad Ashwell, Florida state director of voting rights group All Voting is Local, said 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.
The coalition also asked in the letter that the state use social media, TV, radio and other channels to communicate about any extension to the voter registration deadline, and that it extend its technical support hotline for voters through any new deadline.
It said multiple organizations have asked the state for years about the security and stability of the online voter registration system. It noted that All Voting Is Local had asked the state to use an independent vendor to stress-test the system.
Indeed, Monday is not the first time the state has had glitches with its voter registration website. Groups had for months been questioning the state how it was preparing the website to handle an influx of users without crashing.
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.
“The state had months to prepare for the last day of voter registration,” Brigham said Tuesday morning. “It’s quite frankly very concerning.”
One person’s frustration
Alec Beer, 22, of Wesley Chapel, was among the Floridians who faced outages on the state’s voter registration website Monday evening. He said he tried to log on from his phone around 7 p.m. when he realized the deadline was approaching. But he kept getting error messages.
His sister, Jordyn Beer, 19, tried to help him from her computer. She said she had three different browsers open, trying to get through. After an hour and a half of trying, she said she got to a review page, but then the website wouldn’t let her submit the registration.
“It sucks. It’s a terrible feeling to know my voice could not be heard,” Alec Beer said. “There are a lot of things I’m passionate about in this election.”
Alec said he was able to get registered through the website on Tuesday morning. He’s hopeful the state will extend the voter registration deadline so he can cast a ballot this year.
“I really wanted to vote this year,” Alec Beer said. “Feeling like I can’t do that, it feels like it is taking away my right as an American to be a part of this.”
His sister, Jordyn, said she’s upset she didn’t remind her brother to register earlier. But, she said, “It’s dumb for people to have to feel like they should have registered earlier” if they had tried to register before the deadline.
Questions remain on whether the website’s issues were intermittent or if it was a sustained outage. Certain browsers were working, but others including Internet Explorer and Safari were failing, according to state Sen. Jason Pizzo, who noted he also heard from Floridians who could not get through on any browser.
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.”
On Tuesday, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — the state’s highest-ranking elected Democrat — also 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 /Times Tallahassee Bureau reporters Ana Ceballos and Mary Ellen Klas, and Miami Herald reporter Samantha J. Gross contributed to this report.
This story will be updated.