Florida website collapse left 20,000 unable to register to vote: Federal judge

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At least 40,000 Floridians registered to vote Tuesday, but U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker calculated Thursday up to 20,000 people may have been left in the lurch when the state’s online voter-registration portal crashed Monday.

Why the crash occurred is not as easily calculated, Walker mused Thursday during a hearing on a lawsuit lodged by voting rights groups that claim the 19-hour voter registration extension granted after Monday’s RegistertoVoteFlorida.gov crash was inadequate.

The groups, led by Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida and LatinoJustice, are suing the state to reopen voter registration for two days to provide adequate time for Floridians to be notified of the extension and allow them to register.

The Florida Division of Elections (FDOE) had not, as of Thursday afternoon, updated its rolls, or closed the books, on final registration for the Nov. 3 election but said about 70,100 people successfully accessed the portal Monday before the system slowed to a crawl about 5 p.m.

According to the FDOE, Secretary of State Laurel Lee said “unprecedented” volume on the site exceeded 1.1 million users an hour Monday afternoon. State officials said the spike may have been fueled by a tweet by pop superstar Ariana Grande, who encouraged fellow Floridians to register on her Twitter account, which has 77 million followers. Her tweet was retweeted nearly 7,000 times.

After 5 p.m. Monday, 8,100 people registered to vote before the midnight deadline. State officials said about 49,000 were people trying to access the system at the peak of the slowdown. Preliminary data indicated 50,000 people accessed the site during the 19-hour extension that expired at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

State attorney Mohammad Jazil said based on “preliminary conversations,” the number of people who registered during the extension was “north of 40,000.”

Jazil and other attorneys for the state argued the 19-hour extension was adequate, noting other venues were available to register, including in-person at an elections office or by mail. They said another extension would be confusing and a burden for county elections supervisors.

Walker questioned the state’s cavalier attitude about the crash and the adequacy of its response.

“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.

Based on the site’s traffic timeline presented by the state, Walker estimated up to 20,000 Floridians frustrated in their attempt to sign onto the voting rolls Monday did not register during Tuesday’s extension.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Chiraag Bains said the intense traffic doesn’t correspond with registration estimates.

“That tells me a lot of people were trying to register and that potentially a lot of people couldn’t,” he said, noting the extension “was announced midday Tuesday and ended at 7 p.m. the same day, a span when many people may have been working.”

As with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s CONNECT unemployment portal that crashed in March, Florida’s voter registration website has been criticized as inadequate since it was launched in 2017. It experienced technical difficulties on the October 2018 voter registration deadline as well.

Democrats said Gov. Ron DeSantis should have anticipated a crush of new voters registering online and bulked up the site before, not after, the inevitable happened.

Walker agreed.

“You all knew people were using this website based on past years,” he told state attorneys. “You knew thousands of people were using it, thousands of Floridians – actual U.S. citizens – and it failed for hours.”

Walker said he would issue a ruling soon, perhaps as early as Thursday evening.

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