Judge denies motion to extend Florida's voter registration

Full Screen
1 / 4

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Ramiro Saez, left, helps his son Lucas Saez, 22, fill out a voter registration form, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department in Doral, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis extended the state's voter registration deadline after heavy traffic crashed the state's online system and potentially prevented thousands of enrolling to cast ballots in next month's presidential election. Saez attempted to register to vote six times the night before without any luck. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal judge has denied a motion to extend voter registration in Florida even though a computer meltdown on the final day of registration might have prevented thousands of potential voters from taking part in November’s presidential election.

In a 29-page ruling on Friday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Walker said his decision was “an incredibly close call” but added that “the state’s interest in preventing chaos in its already precarious —and perennially chaotic — election outweighs the substantial burden imposed on the right to vote.”

Walker shared in the exasperation of voter advocacy groups even as he ruled against them, peppering his opinion with sharply worded criticisms of the state.

"In so ruling, this Court notes that every man who has stepped foot on the Moon launched from the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida. Yet, Florida has failed to figure out how to run an election properly—a task simpler than rocket science," the judge wrote.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee reopened registrations for seven hours on Tuesday after consulting with Gov. Ron DeSantis, providing another opportunity to people who weren't able to submit their voter registrations online before Monday night's deadline. But Walker said this was too little, too late and done with not enough notice.

“With the public sounding the alarm, the Secretary of State decided to implement a half measure,” Walker wrote. “She hastily and briefly extended the registration period and ordered Florida’s supervisors of election to accept applications submitted by the Secretary’s new ‘book closing’ deadline.”

Walker wrote that Lee’s “cure” had at least one major flaw: She did not notify the public until after noon on the date of her new deadline.

“This left less than seven hours for potential voters to somehow become aware of the news and ensure that they properly submitted their voter registration applications, all while also participating in their normal workday, school, family, and caregiving responsibilities,” Walker wrote.