More than 40,000 people — equal to twice the capacity of Amalie Arena — may have registered to vote in the amount of time the state’s voter registration deadline was extended Tuesday, an attorney representing Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee told a federal judge Wednesday.
During a hearing Wednesday over a lawsuit that seeks to extend the voter registration deadline further, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker pushed the state for details about how many Floridians may have been affected by outages to the state’s online system before the initial deadline of Monday night.
The state on Tuesday reopened the registration deadline for several hours. But several voter registration groups quickly filed a lawsuit saying at least a two-day extension was needed.
Walker, who moved to quickly schedule a follow-up hearing for Thursday, pressed state officials Wednesday for estimates on how many Floridians were unable to register while the website wasn’t working properly.
Mohammad Jazil, an attorney with the Hopping Green & Sams law firm who is representing Lee, said the state website had 1.1 million visits per hour at the time of its technical problems. But those visits could have included every time a person refreshed the site, people wanting to check their status, or those wanting to update their voter registration.
When asked how many people registered during the extension, Javil said that based on "preliminary conversations,” the number was “north of 40,000.”
If accurate, that illustrates just how many people were blocked from registering Monday, said Chiraag Bains, an attorney for research and advocacy group Demos. It is one of several groups that on Tuesday sued Lee and Gov. Ron DeSantis over extending the voter registration deadline.
“That tells me a lot of people were trying to register and that potentially a lot of people couldn’t,” Bains said. He said the deadline extension was relatively minor, noting that it was announced midday Tuesday and ended at 7 p.m. the same day, a span when many people may have been working.
Walker on Wednesday also pushed for information on how the timing of any extension of the voter registration deadline could affect preparations for the general election, asking for a “drop-dead date” when people could be added to the voter rolls.
Florida has among the earliest voter registration deadlines of any state, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The National Voter Registration Act does not allow the deadline to be more than 30 days before an election; Florida’s deadline is 29 days before an election.
Walker gave attorneys for Lee and DeSantis until 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to file a response to the lawsuit ahead of the Thursday morning hearing.
He floated a possible solution for Floridians who were unable to access the website, posing a scenario in which “folks were permitted to come and file an affidavit saying, ‘I tried when it crashed to get on, and I wasn’t aware (of) an opportunity to fix it until after the extra five hours’” had expired Tuesday.
“It’s similar to those cases where we said, here’s the time frame for those affected, and those who swore under oath they were affected, that they could fix it and register,” Walker said.
The last several weeks before a general election normally see huge numbers of new voter registrations as people become increasingly aware of the impending deadline. As many as 50,000-60,000 Floridians registered to vote on the last day of registration in 2016, said Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and cofounder of the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project.
Florida now has more than 14 million active registered voters. By September, the number of registered Democrats just slightly edged the number of Republicans by about 184,000, with the margin between the two parties appearing to be at a historically close level.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.
Tampa Bay Times elections coverage
Voter guide is coming soon: The Tampa Bay Times will publish a special election section Sunday, Oct. 18 with information on local races. You can also access our Know Your Candidates guide at tampabay.com/voterguide beginning Sunday, Oct. 11.
FELONY CONVICTION? Here are Florida’s rules for registering to vote.
POSTAL SERVICE CONCERNS: What’s going on with the U.S. Postal Service and should Florida be worried?
HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT VOTING IN FLORIDA? WE HAVE THE ANSWERS: We’ve compiled information on voter registration deadlines, rules for voting by mail and more.
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.