Federal Judge Rejects Bid to Extend Voter Registration in Florida

Voters prepare to turn in their mail-in ballots at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department in Doral, Fla., on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

(CN) — A federal judge refused Friday to give Floridians extra time to register to vote despite a massive computer malfunction on the last day of registration, but he blasted state officials for being unprepared.  

Florida’s voter registration website crashed on Monday evening due to “unprecedented volume and traffic,” officials said, and the meltdown may have prevented thousands of potential voters from casting their ballots in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“Unfortunately for these potential voters, this court cannot remedy what the state broke under these circumstances,” Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in a ruling that denies a motion to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline.

“Notwithstanding the fact that cinemas across the country remain closed, somehow, I feel like I’ve seen this movie before,” Walker, a Barack Obama appointee, said in the 29-page opinion. “Just shy of a month from election day, with the earliest mail-in ballots beginning to be counted, Florida has done it again.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel Lee, both Republicans, ordered election officials to extend the deadline to 7 p.m. on Tuesday following the crash.

But after civil rights groups asked for the registration window to be extended by several more days, Walker said the change might sow further chaos and confusion into an already hectic election.

“Florida’s interest in preventing chaos in its already precarious—and perennially chaotic—election outweighs the substantial burden imposed on the right to vote,” the judge wrote.

He added that the decision was “an incredibly close call.”

“This court takes cases as they come, and based on the record before this court, protecting the integrity of Florida’s elections outweighs the burden placed on the voting rights of Floridians,” Walker said.

Among the groups pushing for more time were Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida and Florida Immigrant Coalition.

They say the state’s measly extension left too little time for the public to become aware of the new deadline and register by Tuesday night, especially since Lee did not announce the change until Tuesday afternoon.

Walker noted that the state’s extension left less than seven hours for potential voters to become aware of the change and ensure that they properly submitted their voter registration applications.

“These potential voters include a public-school teacher, a past felon who jumped through hoops to be eligible to vote, a survivor of domestic violence, and countless others whose stories are not before this court,” Walker wrote. “To these potential voters, the state’s answer for its own failures can only be characterized as ‘so sad, too bad.’”

According to the state, 120,000 people registered to vote on Monday and Tuesday.

Walker’s ruling comes after a heated hearing in Tallahassee federal court on Thursday, during which the judge said the registration numbers should have been 21,000 higher based on state data from 2018.

However, Walker ultimately found the consequences of changing deadlines so late in the game outweighed the constitutional challenge to the limited extension.  

“In so ruling, 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,” the opinion states.   

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