Virginia election officials ask court to extend voter registration deadline after website crash

Virginia’s voter registration website went down on Tuesday, the final day for people in the state to register ahead of Election Day. The website was down until the early afternoon for more than five and a half hours.

“Due to a network outage, the Citizen Portal is temporarily unavailable,” the Virginia Department of Elections wrote on its site Tuesday morning. 

Officials tweeted that a “fiber cut” in Chester, near the Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center, impacted connectivity for multiple state agencies. The cut cable, which appeared to be an accident, affected both the voting portal and the registrar’s offices. 

“We are working with our network providers to restore service as quickly as possible,” the department said. “Please check back later for your online voter registration or absentee needs.”

Voters looking to register were directed to this statement from the Virginia Department of Elections during the outage on October 13, 2020.

Virginia Department of Elections

While the site was down, voters were directed to fill out and print a paper application for voter registration and a paper application for voting by mail. 

At about 3:30 p.m., officials tweeted that the site was working again, but provided no further explanation.

When the site was down, angry voters took to social media to demand a deadline extension, calling the outage “voter suppression.” Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax called on the state to extend the voter registration deadline due to the outage. 

“I am officially calling for Virginia’s Registration Deadline to be extended beyond today due to the service outages impacting voters’ ability to register statewide,” Fairfax tweeted. “We will work with the Administration to resolve this issue and ensure all voters have access to #Vote.”

Later Tuesday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed a brief with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, on behalf of several voter rights groups, asking it to grant permission for state election officials to extend the registration deadline until Thursday.

“We need to make up for the time lost today,” Herring said in a tweet announcing his official request of the court. “We have 21 days until the most important election of our lifetimes and I want to make sure every eligible Virginian who wants to vote can.”

Virginia’s voter registration portal faced a similar outage in 2016, when a computer glitch crashed the site the day of the voter registration deadline. A judge extended the registration deadline at the time after several civil rights groups sued for the extension. 

Tuesday is the final day to register to vote in Virginia, Washington D.C., Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon and West Virginia. Last week, the deadlines in both Arizona and Florida were both extended.

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