By John Haughey
The Center Square
October 9, 2020
Florida’s voter registration website was not felled in a cyberattack but was overwhelmed by a crush of users when it crashed Monday as the deadline to register to vote neared, a state official said Wednesday.
Florida Chief Information Officer James Grant told The Associated Press “misconfigured servers” caused the crash and the state responded by expanding capacity to give the system a “whole lot more horsepower.”
Grant said “servers were configured in a way that reduced capacity to a fraction of a fraction of what it was capable of.” He acknowledged no one knows why capacity wasn’t added before the anticipated rush rather than after.
Grant, a former Republican Florida House representative from Tampa, said the 19-hour extension approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis provided ample extra time to register. The extension expired 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The Florida Division of Elections (FDOE) had not, as of Wednesday afternoon, closed the books on final registration figures for the Nov. 3 election.
When registration closed for the Aug. 18 primary, 13.9 million Floridians were registered. With at least 100,000 new registrations, more than 14 million Floridians are now registered to vote.
Monday’s crash came amid an unprecedented attempt by the state to contact an estimated 2.2 million unregistered Floridians as a requirement of membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a 30-state election security consortium.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee said Tuesday the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) were investigating the crash.
“We will work with our state and federal law enforcement partners to ensure this was not a deliberate act against the voting process,” she initially said, later adding, “We have not identified any evidence of interference or malicious activity impacting the site.”
Lee said the “unprecedented” demand on the site – 1.1 million users an hour Monday – likely fostered its collapse.
Democrats and voting rights advocates said the state was well aware of the website’s inadequacies, which has crashed at least five times since going online in October 2017.
According to documents obtained by American Oversight, an online ethics watchdog, Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux told the secretary of state’s office after a crash of the website in 2018, “Your lack of communications to us (supervisors of elections)” in responding to complaints about the site “is hindering us from helping you make sure the right word gets out! None of us wants to see the mantle of ‘voter suppression’ placed on (online voter registration), especially not after all we have done to push and promote it!!”
Critics said the DeSantis administration is building a record of strategic technological incompetence, noting the state’s online unemployment compensation website also crashed when traffic spiked in the wake of pandemic layoffs in March and its COVID-19 dashboard repeatedly has been cited for providing conflicting and misleading information.
After a request to extend the voter registration deadline to Wednesday was denied, voter advocacy groups, including Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida and LatinoJustice, filed a federal lawsuit against the state, saying DeSantis’ extension was insufficient.
U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee rejected the request for an immediate extension late Tuesday, but agreed to hear arguments Thursday.