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U.S. District Judge Sides With State, Blocks Potential Voters From 2020 Election

Gavel on a black background
Bill Oxford

For voting rights advocate Sharion Scott, Monday, October 5th felt like déjà vu.

“Around the 2018 election the website crashed on one of the last days of voter registration. This past presidential preference primary in March it struggled. It also had issues and crashed on National Voter Registration Day last month. And we actually sued them in March on this issue and they promised to fix it and they didn’t," said Scott.

Scott's a staff attorney with the Advancement Project. After the crash Monday, Department of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried asked that the deadline be extended.

"Even if just one person was affected, there needs to be an extension," said Fried.

Shortly after, Secretary of State Laurel Lee said the state would extend registration to Tuesday at 7 p.m. Eastern Time. But the Advancement Project’s Scott says that didn’t fix the issue because it came too late for most people to be aware of the extension.

“First they let people know about the extension after noon. It was like approximately 12:18 pm when they told people that they had more time," said Scott. "Some people were at work, some people were in school there was not enough time for people to learn about it and then make a 7 pm deadline”

Scott says on top of the extension being short, it also wasn’t publicized enough.

As a result, voting rights groups sued, asking the U.S. District Court to make the state open the registration period for another two days. But Judge Mark Walker ruled otherwise. He leaning on written testimony from County Election Supervisors Paul Lux of Okaloosa, and Mark Early of Leon County.

“We do have Mr. Lux’s and Mr. Earley’s declaration from two supervisors explaining their limiting resources, the deadlines they are facing, and that they’re already behind the 8-ball and this is going to be made worse if you heap additional burdens on them," said Walker.

Earley says he believes the extension on Tuesday was enough.

"We had nearly as many voters I mean almost at the same number register through midnight to midnight on Monday as registered midnight Monday-Tuesday through 7 pm on Tuesday. It was 313 and 295," said Earley.

While a legal victory for the state, Walker’s writes in his ruling that Florida still quote: “failed its citizens”. He says the decision to not reopen voter registration could stop upwards of 20,000 people from registering to vote.

In most instances court cases get appealed but with less than a month until elections, Scott says appealing the decision is pointless.

“We know that with the time it takes to do all of the drafting and the arguments that time could be spent on the ground which is what’s next for us and our partners," said Scott.

Now the focus for voting rights groups shifts to making sure those who did beat the deadline actually use their right and vote in the Presidential election.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.