TALLAHASSEE, Florida – A federal judge has denied an application to renew voter registration in Florida despite a computer breakdown on the last day of registration potentially preventing thousands of potential voters from voting in the November presidential election.
In a 29-page verdict on Friday morning, US District Court judge Mark E. Walker said his ruling was "an incredibly tight call," but added that "the state's interest in preventing chaos in its already precarious – and again and again chaotic – elections outweigh the considerable burden on the right to vote. "
Walker noted the historical problems the state appears to have with elections.
"Despite the fact that cinemas are closed across the country, I feel like I've seen this movie before. Just under a month after election day, when the earliest postal ballot papers were counted, Florida did it again," wrote Walker.
Florida had reopened its website for seven hours on Tuesday, providing another option for people who could not submit their voter registrations online before the Monday night deadline.
Data submitted by the state shows that 50,000 people registered during the extended period. Due to past trends, the judge said, more than 20,000 additional people might have signed up to vote if they had access to the system.
Secretary of State Laurel Lee reopened registration for seven hours on Tuesday after consulting with Governor Ron DeSantis.
Walker resented a prosecutor's argument that other venues were available for registration to vote, including in person at a polling station or by mail.
"When the public raised the alarm, the Secretary of State decided to implement half a measure," wrote Walker. "She hastily and briefly extended the registration deadline and ordered the Florida election officers to accept motions submitted within the new deadline for the completion of the secretary's book."
Walker wrote that Lee's "cure" had at least one major flaw: it did not notify the public no earlier than noon on the day of her new deadline.
"This left less than seven hours for potential voters to somehow catch the news and make sure they were properly filing their voter registration applications while participating in their normal work day, school, family, and care responsibilities" wrote Walker.
The judge said the problem boils down to whether Lee does not have a fully functional voter registration website in the final hours of the voter registration period and her limited extension "passes under constitutional scrutiny." Ultimately, he said, the need to prevent more chaos outweighed the denial of voting rights for thousands of Floridians.
In the end, it's not about Floridians missing registration deadlines or questioning a state law, Walker wrote.
"This case is about how a state has failed its citizens," wrote Walker. "In this case, potential voters have tried to fulfill their civic duty, to exercise their fundamental right, only to be thwarted again by a state that seems never to be prepared for an election."
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