MIAMI — Florida’s voter registration website crashed on the day of the state’s deadline for people to register to vote.
The failure of the system might have prevented thousands of potential voters from being able to cast their ballots in the November 3 general election, despite an extension of the deadline until 7 p.m. the next day, which took place mostly throughout the workday.
This insufficient extension was met with a lawsuit by voting rights groups that argued that the extension was not enough time to let voters know that they can actually register again.
This is not the first time the online registration website goes down at a critical time. During the 2018 midterm elections, the portal went down on October 9, which was coincidentally the last day for people to register to vote for those upcoming elections. That means that state officials had two years to prepare for a predictably contentious presidential election in which high voter participation was expected and instead they did nothing.
One could not be faulted for assuming this is all intentional.
Being able to cast a vote is the most basic right in a democracy. A healthy political system hinges on the idea that a person will have a say in determining political representation. Unfortunately Florida has seen both voter suppression tactics and incompetence obstruct the ability for Floridians to participate in the civic process.
How must Florida simplify its archaic and inefficient voter registration system?
Implement automatic voter registration in the state.
Several states and the District of Columbia already approved automatic voter registration. The way it works is by streamlining the process in which eligible citizens can register to vote through two simple changes in the way our country traditionally registers voters.
First, it makes voter registration an opt-out option instead of opt-in. When eligible citizens interact with government agencies, they are registered to vote or have their existing registration information updated unless they explicitly refuse. Second, it allows those government agencies to transfer voter registration information electronically to election officials instead of using paper forms. This improves efficiency and saves money.
In 2018 alone, 20 states introduced legislation to implement or expand automatic registration. Unfortunately for Floridians, we currently face a Republican trifecta in Tallahassee that will undoubtedly obstruct any efforts that make it easier for people to vote. This doesn’t mean the legislative approach should be completely ignored, but I believe this is a cause worthy of a ballot initiative effort to amend the state constitution. In a healthy democracy, we should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.
We cannot depend on Tallahassee politicians to break through the partisan gridlock and get something done on this issue. Just like we did for Amendment 4 and many other issues, we need to take this issue straight to the citizens of Florida and collect the required petitions to place this on the ballot if need be.
Electoral reform is badly needed in Florida, and after the irregularities that we observed every election cycle, we cannot continue tolerating an electoral process that fails Floridians at a critical moment. It’s time to embrace progress in the state and to ensure that Floridians don’t face unnecessary hurdles and obstacles when it comes to casting their vote.
We should continue to expand democracy by embracing automatic voter registration as the next logical step for Florida.
Thomas Kennedy is the Florida Coordinator for United We Dream Action and a former staffer for the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign. He tweets from @Tomaskenn.