Democrats Accuse Florida GOP of Voter Suppression After Registration Site Crashes Before Deadline

Democrats have accused Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican state officials of "blatant" voter suppression after the state's voter registration website crashed on the last day to register to vote.

Florida residents who want to vote in November's election had until 12 a.m. Tuesday to register, but hours before the deadline, many reported that the website was unavailable.

Florida's Secretary of State Laurel Lee tweeted that the state's voter registration portal went down for a brief period on Monday. "Due to high volume, for about 15 minutes, some users experienced delays while trying to register. We have increased capacity," she wrote on Twitter.

But many on social media noted that the website was still not working late on Monday night. "I have messages from Floridians who can't get through on any browser," Florida State Senator Jason Pizzo, a Democrat, tweeted. "We are urging everyone to keep trying through 12am, and will remain available."

"Voters still have 2 hours to register to vote in time for this November's election but the online voter registration website is STILL broken," Florida Democrats added on Twitter. "Fix it now!"

Pizzo said he had spoken to Lee about the website going down on Monday afternoon. "Her agency continues to monitor disruptions, and is exploring whether they can extend deadline for those who continue to experience issues," he tweeted.

In a statement to Newsweek on Tuesday, Lee said: "This morning I met with Governor DeSantis to brief him on the status of the online voter registration system and the challenges we encountered last night due to unprecedented volume and traffic to our website."

She added: "We're exploring all options to ensure that all eligible registrants have the ability to register to vote and will work with our state and federal law-enforcement partners to ensure this was not a deliberate act against the voting process. We will be issuing an update as soon as possible."

It came after several Democrats accused the state's Republican leaders of working to suppress the vote in the key battleground state, noting that the website has previously experienced issues during periods of high demand—including on the last day to register to vote in 2018.

They also called on DeSantis, an ally of President Donald Trump, to extend the deadline due to Monday's issues.

"This is just latest attempt from the Republican leaders in Florida to limit democracy," Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said in a statement.

"The Florida Voter Registration website not working on the last day to register to vote in Florida is blatant voter suppression. Fix the website, stop the suppression, and let democracy work."

Juan Peñalosa, the executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, also said the website's issues were "voter suppression" and noted other occasions the website experienced problems.

Alongside a screenshot of the error message that popped up when people visited the website on Monday, Peñalosa wrote: "Every. Damn. Time. @FloridaGOP suppression machine is in full effect.

"The Florida voter registration deadline is today. The Florida online voter registration portal is down."

In another tweet, he added: "Hey @GovRonDeSantis: In 2018, on final day to #registertovote, the Florida online voter registration site was down.

"#NationalVoterRegistrationDay, FL online voter registration site was down. Today is last day to #RegisterToVote in FL AND online voter registration is down."

Florida Rep. Ted Deutch urged DeSantis to investigate the crash and extend the deadline for voter registration.

"To @GovRonDeSantis: Investigate what happened. If your computers crashed again, figure out when, and give Floridians an additional amount of time equal to the time they were down to register to vote," he tweeted. "Tell us when they can register. And make sure it doesn't happen again."

Florida's agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried also urged Republican leaders to extend the deadline, calling the issue on Monday "unacceptable."

She added that not planning for the surge in demand on the website was "voter suppression."

She wrote on Twitter: "Not planning for a voter registration surge is voter suppression. Not ensuring everyone who wants to register can do so is voter suppression.

"Not extending the deadline is voter suppression. @GovRonDeSantis & @FLSecofState, you must extend the deadline."

The ACLU of Florida tweeted that the state's online voter registration system "has a suspect history of crashing just before key deadlines."

In a tweet, the organization said that DeSantis and Lee "knew the website was faulty and did nothing" and urged Florida residents to call Lee and demand the voter registration deadline be extended.

Florida State Department spokesman Mark Ard had said in June that the department had "rigorously tested" the online voter registration site and was confident the system would be able to handle the number of Florida residents registering to vote or updating their voter registrations before the August and November elections, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

The newspaper noted that Ard did not respond to specific questions about the site's capacity at the time.

Brad Ashwell, Florida state director of All Voting is Local, a voting rights group, told the Times that his organization made "repeated attempts" to work with the state "to fix the faulty website."

This included finding an independent vendor to stress-test the system, which Ashwell said the state had declined.

"History is repeating itself, and Florida voters continue to bear the burden of ineptitude as a result of negligence," Ashwell added.

Voter registration is a concerning issue in the swing state of Florida for Democrats because while the state has many more registered Democrats, they tend to turn out in lower numbers than Republicans on Election Day.

Democrats had 330,000 more registered voters than Republicans going into the 2016 presidential election, but President Donald Trump beat Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by around 112,000 votes.

Republicans had cut that lead in registered voters by nearly half in August and the gap could have been further narrowed by Tuesday's deadline.

This article has been updated with a statement from Laurel Lee.

Voting booths are setup at the Yuengling center on the campus of University of South Florida as workers prepare to open the doors to early voters on October 22, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Democrats Accuse Florida GOP of Voter Suppression After Registration Site Crashes Before Deadline | U.S.