TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida is investigating why its online voter registration system crashed just before the deadline for the upcoming presidential election, saying unexpectedly heavy traffic that can’t be immediately explained poured in during the closing hours.
A state official told The Associated Press on Tuesday that at times more than half a million attempts an hour hit the system Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who oversees the voting system, said in a statement Tuesday that she has briefed Gov. Ron DeSantis. He has scheduled a noon press conference to discuss the breakdown and to announce whether he will extend the registration deadline.
“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,” Lee said.
A civil rights group is threatening to sue if the governor does not extend the deadline. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said the breakdown would unjustly deprive thousands of casting ballots for president and other offices.
“We are not going to stand by idly,” said Kristen Clarke, the group’s president. She said the group sued Virginia in 2016 after its computer system crashed just before the deadline, winning an extension that allowed thousands of additional voters to register.
The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned elections officials nationwide last week that cyberattacks could disrupt their systems during the run-up to the election. They particularly noted “distributed denial-of-service” attacks, which inundate a computer system with requests, potentially clogging up servers until the system becomes inaccessible to legitimate users.
The potential for outside meddling is an especially sensitive issue in Florida, a key battleground state in November’s election between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice-President Joe Biden. The state has lingering questions about Russian hacking during the election four years ago.
Last year, state officials confirmed that election-related servers of at least two Florida counties were breached by Russian meddlers. No votes or records were tampered with.
Whatever caused the disruption, it potentially stopped thousands from registering. Sarah Dinkins, a Florida State University student, tried to help her younger sister register Monday night. They began trying about 9 p.m. and by 10:30 p.m. had not been successful.
“I feel very frustrated,” she said. “If the voting website doesn’t work, fewer people potentially Democratic voters will be able to vote.”
This is not the first major computer shutdown to affect the state government this year. For weeks in the spring, tens of thousands of Floridians who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t file for unemployment benefits because of repeated crashes by that overwhelmed computer system, delaying their payments. DeSantis replaced the director overseeing that system but blamed the problems on his predecessor, fellow Republican Rick Scott, who is now a U.S. senator.
Democrats jumped on the latest issue, saying it and the unemployment fiasco show that the DeSantis administration is inept and accused it of trying to stop people from voting.
“The utter incompetence of Gov. Ron DeSantis in allowing the state’s voter registration website to crash on the very last day to register for the upcoming November election is, sadly, completely believable,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said. “His administrative buffoonery in operating the state’s unemployment system telegraphed today’s executive ineptitude. However, this particular blunder intimates a continuing pattern of voter suppression that the governor has become notorious for.”
Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale. AP writer Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.
Brendan Farrington, Bobby Caina Calvan And Terry Spencer, The Associated Press