Federal judge hears arguments on voter registration extension after state website crash

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal judge on Thursday was considering whether to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline after the state’s website crashed Monday, the scheduled last day to register before the Nov. 3 election.

A coalition of voters’ rights groups sued, saying Secretary of State Laurel Lee’s extension of the deadline to 7 p.m. Tuesday wasn’t enough and some people were still unable to register.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker questioned lawyers for the groups and for the Florida Department of State, focusing on the harm caused by the problems with the website, and what effect any extension would have on the operation of the elections.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley stated in an affidavit filed in the case that a further extension would “serve to reinforce the confusion and mistrust voters have surrounding this election, further strengthening the rampant misinformation and disinformation campaigns that are already undermining the November general election.”

Walker appeared to agree, noting the additional unusual circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Historically, Florida hasn’t managed to count the votes properly when there isn’t a pandemic,” Walker said.

But he also peppered Mohammed Jazil, attorney for the Department of State, with questions about the extent of the website’s shutdown and the harm done to those who weren’t able to register online.

Walker took issue with Jazil’s argument that voters had other avenues to register, such as in-person at supervisors of elections offices or by mail, and the website was only down for a few hours on one day, so the harm caused was “minor.”

“Are you seriously taking the position that if 50,000 to 70,000 people lose their ability to vote ? that’s minor?” Walker said. “That’s just an oopsie that 50,000 people may not have been able to register because we lost a few hours?”

Walker said he would issue a ruling later in the day. Depending on the outcome, Jazil indicated the Department of State would appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal based in Atlanta.

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