By John Haughey
The Center Square
October 9, 2020
A federal judge has rejected Florida voting rights groups’ motion for a two-day voter registration extension to avoid mayhem in an already turbulent election.
“This is an incredibly close call, but Florida’s interest in preventing chaos in its already precarious – and perennially chaotic – election outweighs the substantial burden imposed on the right to vote,” U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker wrote in ruling issued early Friday morning.
In denying the request “on an expedited basis to afford the parties a meaningful opportunity to appeal,” Walker sharply criticized the state for creating the circumstances for yet another chaotic voting-related dustup.
“Notwithstanding the fact that cinemas across the country remain closed, somehow, I feel like I’ve seen this movie before,” Walker wrote. “Just shy of a month from election day, with the earliest mail-in ballots beginning to be counted, Florida has done it again.”
Florida’s RegistertoVoteFlorida.gov crashed about 5 p.m. Monday and remained slow or unresponsive through the midnight deadline to register to vote.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approval, extended voter registration to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Arguing the extension was inadequate – it was announced at noon Tuesday and expired before many realized it was in place – voters’ rights groups, led by Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida and LatinoJustice, sued to reopen registration for two days to provide adequate time for Floridians to be notified of the extension and allow them to register.
During that 19-hour span, the Florida Division of Elections (FDOE) said about 50,000 people registered to vote, but, citing site traffic trends, plaintiffs argued thousands were unable to register and were unaware of the extension.
Walker calculated Thursday as many as 20,000 people were left in the lurch Monday night.
“With the public sounding the alarm, the Secretary of State decided to implement a half measure,” Walker wrote. “She hastily and briefly extended the registration period and ordered Florida’s supervisors of election to accept applications submitted by the Secretary’s new ‘book closing’ deadline.”
Walker said the state’s cavalier “so sad, too bad” attitude about the crash and its “half measure” reflects a lack of respect for its own residents.
“Unfortunately for these potential voters, this court cannot remedy what the state broke under these circumstances,” Walker wrote.
In denying the preliminary injunction, Walker concluded: “In so doing, this Court notes that every man who has stepped foot on the Moon launched from the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida. Yet, Florida has failed to figure out how to run an election properly – a task simpler than rocket science.
“In the end,” he wrote, “this case is not about Floridians missing registration deadlines. This case is also not a challenge to a state statute. This case is about how a state failed its citizens.”
The FDOE had not closed the books on final registration numbers for the Nov. 3 election. At least 100,000 new voters had registered before last weekend, lifting the number of registered voters in the state beyond 14 million.
As of Friday morning, more than 1.37 million Floridians already had voted in the Nov. 3 election, with 396,500 Republicans, 707,505 Democrats and 251,838 nonaffiliated voters casting mail-in ballots.
Nearly 4.2 million mail-in ballots have been requested by Florida voters who have until Oct. 23 to request them from county elections supervisors.