Virginia Voter Registration System Down on Last Day to Sign Up

A polling place is seen in Richmond, Va., on March 3, 2020. (Courthouse News photo/Brad Kutner)

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Overnight utility work is to blame for a severed fiberoptic cable that has cut off the ability of Virginians to register to vote on the state’s final day of registration ahead of the 2020 election.

“This morning we were alerted by [the Virginia Information Technologies Agency] that a fiber cut near the Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center was impacting data circuits and VPN connectivity for multiple agencies,” the Virginia Department of Elections said in a tweet sent out Tuesday morning. “This has affected the citizen portal along w/ registrar’s offices.”

The outage comes on the state’s last day to register as a new voter or allow voters to update their registration in time for the Nov. 3 general election.

According to National Voter Registration Act records, Virginia’s online tool is among the most frequently used method of registering new voters or updating voter information. July 2020 saw about 94,000 uses of the online tool while August, the most recent month with available data, saw 160,000 uses. For comparison, November 2016 saw about 22,000 uses of the tool.

The elections agency said work crews were on the scene. In an email, Verizon spokesman David Weissmann said overnight utility work lead to the cable being cut.

“We’re working with [the state] to restore connectivity to the data center as quickly as possible,” he said.

Calls for extending the deadline have already started to roll in.

“So on the last day to register to vote, people can’t access the website to register,” tweeted Sean Berryman, president of the Fairfax County NAACP. “We should immediately extend the deadline for voter registration here in Virginia.”

Attempts to reach Governor Ralph Northam or Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, were not returned Tuesday. However, state law appears to allow the elections commissioner to make changes to voting rules if a state of emergency is enacted by the governor.

If Northam or the courts step in, it wouldn’t be the first time. In 2016, the registration site crashed the final evening of registration and a lawsuit against the state elections commissioner led to an extended registration deadline.  

Virginia Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, is head of his chamber’s committee on elections. He told Courthouse News he felt confident the courts would act the same way this year if asked.

“It’s unfortunate and hopefully an accident,” he said. “I would hope Virginians would be extended that courtesy again this year.”

Changes made to state voting laws by VanValkenburg and his Democratic colleagues, who won control of the statehouse last year, have put Virginia front and center with early and expanded access to voting. Early voting opened mid-September and nearly 1 million ballots have already been cast while another 600,000 mail-in absentee ballots are waiting to be returned, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

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