Server configuration caused Florida voter registration crash

Politics
Lucas Saez, Ramiro Saez, Loren Quiroz, Andrew Gillum

Lucas Saez, foreground, 22, fills out his voter registration form as his father Ramiro Saez, center rear, looks on, 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. (AP) — Florida’s chief information officer said Wednesday that misconfigured computer servers were to blame for the crash of the state’s voter registration system as the deadline approached for enrolling to cast ballots in next month’s presidential election.

Because of Monday’s crash, Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed additional registrations for seven hours on Tuesday.

James Grant told The Associated Press in an interview that the voter registration system worked as expected during that extra time after technicians reconfigured existing servers, expanding the network’s capacity and giving the system a “whole lot more horsepower.”

He said it is unknown how many people were prevented from registering to vote during Monday’s bottleneck.

Grant said no one had any intention of preventing people from registering to vote, but he acknowledged that the system failed on a critical day.

“The servers were configured in a way that reduced its capacity to a fraction of a fraction of what it was capable of,” Grant said.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee issued a statement late Tuesday saying it does not appear that bad actors caused Monday’s collapse of registration system. Lee said the system overloaded when more than a million attempts to register came in by the hour.

Cyber security experts have said that an intentional attack aimed at crippling the system would have involved millions of attempts per second.

The potential for outside meddling is an especially sensitive issue in Florida, a key battleground in November’s election between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden. The state has lingering questions about Russian hacking during the election four years ago.

“We have not identified any evidence of interference or malicious activity impacting the site,” Lee said.

Some in the Florida media speculated that a tweet by pop superstar Ariana Grande to her 77 million followers Monday afternoon urging her fellow Floridians to register before that night’s deadline may have created a spike that crashed the system.

Jim DeFede, a reporter at Miami’s CBS affiliate, first raised the prospect Wednesday morning, noting that her tweet happened about two hours before the bottleneck began. The tweet linked to a group, HeadCount, which is aimed at registering music fans. Its site would send Floridians to the state’s registration website.

“We’re aware of the speculation but haven’t determined if there is any validity to it,” said Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for DeSantis.

The statewide voter registration system, which serves Florida’s 67 counties, went online in October 2017. There have been some problems before, but nothing like Monday’s meltdown.

Several voting and minority rights groups filed a federal lawsuit against the state, saying DeSantis’ extension was insufficient. They argue that at least two more days are needed to allow for people to be informed of the extension and to act on it.

U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee rejected the groups’ request for an immediate extension late Tuesday, but said he would consider their demand after a hearing on Thursday. The groups include Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and others.

They argue that the rights of those who tried to register Monday were violated because they did not have the same access to the system as those who registered earlier. DeSantis said Tuesday that his extension equaled the time the system experienced problems and was sufficient.

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Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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