Virginia’s voter registration deadline extended after online system shuts down for hours

U.S.

RICHMOND, Va. (NewsNation Now) — A federal judge has extended the deadline for registering to vote in Virginia by 48 hours after the state’s online voter registration system went down because of an accidentally severed cable.

Wednesday’s order in Richmond is an effort to make up for several hours of lost time on Tuesday, which had been last day to register before the November general election. The deadline to register to vote is now 11:59 p.m. on Thursday Oct. 15. It includes both online and in-person registration.

The judge said the shutdown of the state’s website caused “a tremendous harm” to the people who want to register to vote.

Both the voting rights advocates seeking the extension and the Virginia state officials they sued agreed that more time should be granted.

Americans are “21 days away from the most important election of our lifetimes, and I want to make sure that every Virginian who wants to vote has the opportunity to do so,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement Tuesday night.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law had sought the extension, and said Virginia should make “a significant effort” to tell the public about the change.

“Absent relief, voters who attempted to register to vote through the online portal on October 13, 2020, but were unable through no fault of their own, will be absolutely disenfranchised in the upcoming elections,” the group’s lawsuit said.

Local general registrars told NewsNation affiliate WRIC-TV the outage has prevented them from processing absentee ballot requests and voter registration updates but did not impact early voting.

The Virginia Department of Elections said in a statement on Twitter that a 10-gigabit optical fiber circuit was inadvertently cut during a Chesterfield County roadside utilities project. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the state lacked a backup plan for this particular cable, and the episode shows the need for the state to continue its efforts at creating a secure network. Service was restored at 2:30 p.m.

Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner said the circuit was installed this spring to help the state handle increased web demand during the coronavirus pandemic. She said backup circuits aren’t as large as the main circuit, but plans are in place to upgrade them.

Northam, a Democrat, supported the extension, and said it appeared that only the courts could change the state’s voter registration deadline.

You can read the full lawsuit here:

This isn’t the first time technical problems affected Virginians’ ability to register to vote under a looming deadline.

In 2016, an unknown number of people were not able to register because of computer glitches amid unprecedented demand spurred by social media reminders. A voter advocacy group, the New Virginia Majority Education Fund, sued for an extension, and a federal judge granted a brief one.

Nearly 1 million voters in Virginia have already cast their ballot for this year’s election.

The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WRIC contributed to this report.

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