Three groups filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to force the state to give Floridians an extra week to register to vote because of Hurricane Michael.
The lawsuit, filed by the groups Common Cause, New Majority Florida Education Fund and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, came a day after the Florida Democratic Party filed a similar case against Secretary of State Ken Detzner. Both cases seek to allow voters to register until next Tuesday -- a week after the original deadline for the Nov. 6 election.
Detzner this week issued a directive that authorized elections supervisors whose offices were closed Tuesday because of Hurricane Michael to accept paper registration applications on the day that their offices reopen.
“This will ensure that each supervisor of elections office has the same amount of days to register voters at their offices,” Detzner wrote.
Voters also had the option of registering online until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, a deadline that wasn’t extended.
But with Michael coming ashore Wednesday as a punishing Category 4 storm, lawyers representing Common Cause, New Majority Florida Education Fund and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund argued that Detzner’s directive could lead to “arbitrary” results. Also, the lawsuit alleged that the online registration system had experienced problems.
“While the effect of Hurricane Michael may not be uniform throughout the state, a limited one-day extension, effective at an unspecified time, and not uniformly applied among counties, cannot adequately alleviate the burden of the closures on prospective registrants affected by the hurricane,” the lawsuit said. “Voters who are displaced by the storm will be unable to submit registrations in person. Residents who could have registered online may be unable to do so due to internet or power outages, or because of the problems with the OVR (online voter registration) website reported on October 8, 2018. This leads to arbitrary results where there is a greater likelihood that registration opportunities will not be available on the same terms in different counties.”
But Tuesday evening, Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State, said online voter registration has been “immensely successful” since it began last year.
Revell wrote that Tuesday the website “experienced an extremely high volume of traffic and it has caused some users to experience issues while others were able to use the site with no problems.” As of early Tuesday evening, she said 21,700 people had used the site to submit voter-registration applications or to update registrations.
“The site was never down, and the issues were intermittent,” Revell wrote. “All issues have been resolved and the site is operational.”
But the lawsuit filed Wednesday said the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the state on July 26 expressing concerns about problems with the website. The lawsuit also contended that Detzner’s directive is “woefully inadequate” to meet the needs of Floridians forced to leave their homes because of the hurricane.
Both lawsuits seek injunctions and an extension of voter registration until next Tuesday. The Democratic Party lawsuit also sought a temporary restraining order.
As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, the cases remained pending.