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Voting Rights Organizations File Lawsuit in Florida to Extend Voter Registration Deadline as Online Voter Registration System Crashes

TALLAHASSEE, Fla – On Tuesday, October 6, a coalition of voting rights groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida against Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee to extend the online voter registration (OVR) deadline for all Floridians after the system crashed yesterday.

The lawsuit, filed by Advancement Project National Office, Demos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer on behalf of Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, and Florida Immigrant Coalition comes after Florida’s online voter registration (OVR) system crashed and experienced technical issues just as voters scrambled to meet yesterday’s voter registration deadline. Voters, civic engagement organizations and advocates reported experiencing slow site speeds and error messages when attempting to register. The system’s failure disenfranchised potentially thousands of Floridians at a time when voters are relying on OVR to register to vote safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

At 12:18 p.m. today, the Secretary of State issued a press release and directive extending the voter registration deadline to 7:00 p.m. today, October 6, 2020, because the OVR system had “encountered unprecedented volume and traffic the evening of October 5, 2020.” That 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. Plaintiffs are asking for at least two days of extended online voter registration.

The legal complaint aims to make reasonable voting accommodations for Floridians unable to register due to the site’s outage; and to promote an extension of the voter registration deadline via print media, radio, the Secretary’s website, and social media to alert Floridians to the expanded opportunities to register.

“We wanted to assist people in successfully voting in the November election, but this was made more difficult by Florida’s failure to allow voters to register to vote through its OVR page on the last day of voter registration,” said Nailah Summers, Communications Director of the Dream Defenders. “We did not have an effective alternative means to assist eligible unregistered Floridians to register before the deadline. Given that reality, we are concerned that many people who wanted to vote will be unable to cast a ballot on Election Day.”

In March 2020, in-person voter registration efforts by many civic engagement groups screeched to a halt with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The state’s online voter registration system became the focus of virtual outreach as groups sought to ensure access to the ballot box while minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

“Florida’s OVR system has a history of malfunctioning and crashing in advance of major deadlines like the last day of registration before a major election,” said Stephanie Porta, Executive Director of Organize Florida. “Advocacy groups should not have to create toolkits anticipating the state’s OVR system crashing. In the midst of a global health pandemic, Floridians should not be denied the right to vote because the Secretary of State can’t properly update and maintain a website.”

In 2018, civil rights groups sued the state of Florida to extend the voter registration deadline in response to Hurricane Michael.

“It is the responsibility of Secretary Lee to ensure Florida has an online voter registration system that is safe, digitally secure and able to handle a high level of site traffic during voter registration deadlines. Communities of color often pay the price for these blunders and are more likely to be disenfranchised as a result,” said Jorge Vasquez, Power and Democracy Director of Advancement Project National Office. “Florida has had multiple years and multiple elections to address the site’s digital security and update its faulty online voter registration system. No voter should be denied their right to vote during a global health pandemic because Florida did not have a functioning online voter registration system.”

“Florida’s online voter registration website once again crashed on the last day of voter registration, causing an untold number of eligible Floridian voters to lose their right to vote. It was a total disruption to our organization’s voter registration work,” said Andrea Mercado, Executive Director of New Florida Majority Education Fund. “We have long called on Florida to fix the systemic issues with its OVR website, but it has failed to do so. Florida must be held accountable. The people’s right to participate in our democracy and express themselves at the ballot box should be protected, especially when OVR is one of the only ways for people to safely register to vote during this pandemic.”

“Allowing the online voter registration site to crash again, this time as voters scrambled to register by the deadline, is unacceptable. Voters need to register remotely as they quarantine due to the deadly coronavirus pandemic–the system’s collapse is an emergency,” said Chiraag Bains, Director of Legal Strategies at Demos. “Refusing to extend the deadline beyond this evening under these circumstances is outright voter suppression.”

“As we’ve seen with the COVID-19 response, the failed unemployment system, and now the online voter registration portal, the DeSantis administration fails time and time again to anticipate the needs of Floridians,” said Maria Rodriguez, Executive Director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “The failure of the online voter registration portal being down for a significant number of hours on deadline day, resulted in potentially disenfranchising thousands of voters. While it may not be the intention, if the requested extension is not granted, voter suppression will be the consequence at the hands of an administration that puts ideology and xenophobia over fundamental needs of Floridians and democracy. Regardless, the Florida Immigrant Coalition has registered over 46,253 voters, 1,975 on voter registration deadline alone.”

“These latest on-line voter registration issues come as no surprise to anyone working on behalf of Florida voters. Until the systemic issues plaguing the administration of elections in Florida are fully addressed we will continue to fight on behalf of all voters to ensure their votes are counted,” said Kira Romero-Craft, Managing Director for the SouthEast at LatinoJustice.

Read the full complaint here.

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