TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — No matter where you stand this election year, voting rights groups are expecting a record turnout in November.
In the age of coronavirus, most new voters will register online. But is the state’s voter registration site up the task?
8 On Your Side finds that Florida may not be ready for the surge.
In 2017, the state launched RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov. The idea was to make it easier to exercise your civic duty by allowing Floridians to either register or update their registration online.
But during the 2018 election, voters reported they couldn’t access the site in the hours before the registration deadline.
Approximately three months ago, there were reports that the website had trouble again, prompting Florida Democrats to tweet that the problems amounted to voter suppression.
“To us, this is part of a more drawn out problem with the site not having capacity or having technical glitches,” said Brad Ashwell, the Florida director of a non-partisan group called All Voting is Local.
Ashwell wrote a letter to Secretary of State Laurel Lee in February asking about the security and stability of the state’s website. To date, he says, he hasn’t gotten answers.
“The really frustrating thing about March, as well as the 2018 election cycle, is that we really don’t have any detailed information about what went wrong with the site and what the state’s done to fix it,” said Ashwell.
Ashwell and his organization have been in touch with different Supervisors of Elections.
“I think the most consistent story I’ve heard is that it just got overloaded,” said Ashwell.
So, why has the website had trouble?
In 2018, Florida officials said, the problem was intermittent and that the site never went down.
8 On Your Side asked about the March incident.
Mark Ard, the Communications Director for the Florida Department of State sent us the following statement:
“The Online Voter Registration experienced some intermittent issues earlier this year while we were conducting web maintenance on the site. Although some users experienced issues, others were able to submit voter registration applications.
The Department of State will continually upgrade to increase functionality of the site and system and to ensure current and potential Florida voters can register to vote, or update or change their voter registration in time for the August and November elections this year.“
The deadline to register for the state’s Aug. 18 primary election is July 20. The deadline for the general election is Oct. 5.
Unfortunately, voting rights groups say, a lot of people wait until the last minute to register. This time, procrastination may lead to problems.
“It’s never had a test like it’s about to have where we have a contentious presidential election,” said Ashwell.
Ashwell’s organization wants the state to do two things if the site goes down: set up a bilingual hotline to help voters, and also agree to extend the registration deadline. 8 On Your Side is waiting to hear back from the state regarding this request.
If you experience any problems with the site, email investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com
LATEST FROM 8 ON YOUR SIDE:
- Mobile home residents move back in after debris removed in Englewood
- Military math falls short for disabled Tampa veteran
- IRS backlog continues to haunt Tampa Bay taxpayers waiting for needed refunds
- Floridians could see electric bills increase in January, April
- Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport expands parking in preparation for holiday crowds