Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis extended the state’s voter registration deadline Tuesday after unexpected and unexplained heavy traffic crashed the state’s online system and potentially prevented thousands of enrolling to cast ballots in next month’s presidential election.
DeSantis extended the deadline that expired Monday until 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday. In addition to online registration, DeSantis ordered elections, motor vehicle and tax collectors offices to stay open until 7 p.m. local time for anyone who wants to register in person.
“You can have the best site in the world, but sometimes there are hiccups,” DeSantis said during a press conference at The Villages, a large retirement community in central Florida. “If 500,000 people descend at the same time, it creates a bottleneck.”
The state is investigating why its voter registration system crashed on Monday, saying unexpectedly heavy traffic that can't be immediately explained poured in during the closing hours.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who oversees the voting system, said the online registration system “was accessed by an unprecedented 1.1 million requests per hour” during the last few hours of Monday.
"At this time, we have not identified any evidence of interference or malicious activity impacting the site," Lee said in a statement Tuesday evening. "We will continue to monitor the situation and provide any additional information as it develops."
Lee had tweeted on Monday that some users experienced delays for about 15 minutes while trying to register due to high volume, but that they had increased capacity.
A civil rights group is threatening to sue if the governor does not extend the deadline. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said the breakdown would unjustly deprive thousands of casting ballots for president and other offices.
“We are not going to stand by idly,” said Kristen Clarke, the group's president. She said the group sued Virginia in 2016 after its computer system crashed just before the deadline, winning an extension that allowed thousands of additional voters to register.
Democrats throughout the state have pushed for an extension to the deadline.
"Not planning for a voter registration surge is voter suppression. Not ensuring everyone who wants to register can do so is voter suppression. Not extending the deadline is voter suppression. @GovRonDeSantis & @FLSecofState, you must extend the deadline," tweeted Nikki Fried, Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture and consumer services and the state's highest-ranked Democrat.
"This is just latest attempt from the Republican leaders in Florida to limit democracy. The Florida Voter Registration website not working on the last day to register to vote in Florida is blatant voter suppression. Fix the website, stop the suppression, and let democracy work," Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said in a statement.
“The utter incompetence of Gov. Ron DeSantis in allowing the state’s voter registration website to crash on the very last day to register for the upcoming November election is, sadly, completely believable,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said. “His administrative buffoonery in operating the state’s unemployment system telegraphed today’s executive ineptitude. However, this particular blunder intimates a continuing pattern of voter suppression that the governor has become notorious for.”
Sarah Dinkins, a Florida State University student, tried to help her younger sister register Monday night. They began trying about 9 p.m. and by 10:30 p.m. had not been successful.
“I feel very frustrated,” she said. “If the voting website doesn’t work, fewer people potentially Democratic voters will be able to vote."
This is not the first major computer shutdown to affect the state government this year. For weeks in the spring, tens of thousands of Floridians who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic couldn't file for unemployment benefits because of repeated crashes by that overwhelmed computer system, delaying their payments. DeSantis replaced the director overseeing the system but blamed the problems on his predecessor, fellow Republican Rick Scott, who is now a U.S. senator.