Hurricane, Website Glitch Prompt Florida Groups to Ask for More Time Registering Voters

Voting groups have asked for a one week extension for the registration deadline because of Hurricane Michael and online registration problems.

by Alexandra Seltzer, The Palm Beach Post / October 10, 2018
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(TNS) — A hurricane and apparent technical glitches on Tuesday fueled two separate requests for an extension to the state’s voter registration deadline — one of those by Palm Beach County’s election supervisor, Susan Bucher.

As Hurricane Michael took aim at the state’s panhandle, the Florida Democratic Party asked the state to extend the voter registration deadline by at least one week. In Palm Beach County, Bucher also asked for an extension because, she said, the state’s website had technical issues that she suspects prevented potential voters from registering online.

Bucher said the online voter registration system, which is administered by the state, appears to have been down over the weekend and was working “intermittent” on Tuesday. Bucher said she asked the state Division of Elections for a “general” extension to the deadline, which was Tuesday. She was told the department is having information technology staff investigate the matter, but was not given an answer to her request.

The county’s elections office typically receives “several hundred” registrations per day. But on Saturday, the office received just one online application, Bucher said.

“There’s an expectation from the citizens in the state of Florida that they could register to vote online. Apparently a lot of people waited until this weekend to do that and the site was inoperable,” Bucher said.

The state, however, said Tuesday evening the site was never down and issues were intermittent. All problems have been resolved, said Sarah Revell, the state’s communications director.

“Today, the website has experienced an extremely high volume of traffic and it has caused some users to experience issues while others were able to use the site with no problems,” Revell said in a statement.

She said more than 21,700 residents successfully used the site.

The state’s RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov website was launched last year as part of a 2015 law that required online registration be available by Oct. 1, 2017.

If online registration isn’t working, voters-to-be could have brought their forms to one of the election department’s offices or had it postmarked for mail by Tuesday.

Still, Bucher said the state should extend the deadline due to the issues with the website.

“If somebody can’t take off work and go take their voter registration to one of (the offices) or get it postmarked they have been disenfranchised,” Bucher said.

All Voting is Local and other voting rights groups have called on Ken Detzner, Florida’s secretary of state, to extend the voter registration deadline by one week to Oct. 16 because of the website glitches and the hurricane.

“With a life-threatening storm churning toward Florida, voters must be granted more time to register to vote and extending the voter registration deadline is a sensible way to ensure residents not only remain safe, but that their voices can be heard on Election Day,” Dan Horton, Florida state director for All Voting is Local, said in a statement. “Reports of problems to the state’s online voter registration system only underscore that it is imperative voters have more time.”

The state’s Democratic Party on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Detzner asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida to extend the registration deadline saying if an extension does not happen, “thousands of eligible voters will be disenfranchised.”

The lawsuit says Detzner’s proposal of a single-day registration extension in some counties isn’t good enough.

“Florida voters, however, face a daunting and, indeed, life- threatening obstacle to registering to vote in the form of Hurricane Michael, a massive and dangerous weather event that has threatened Florida with substantial damage and disruption,” the lawsuit reads.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency early this week and, on Monday, ordered residents in Michael’s path to evacuate.

Extending the registration deadline in wake of a storm isn’t uncommon. A federal judge in October 2016 ordered voter registration in Florida extend about a week because of Hurricane Matthew.

©2018 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.