Voter registration deadline extended through Oct. 15

Free Press staff, wire reports | 10/15/2020, 6 p.m.
Virginians have until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15 to register to vote because of a 48- hour extension negotiated in ...

Virginians have until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15 to register to vote because of a 48-hour extension negotiated in court after the state’s online voter registration system went down Tuesday because of an accidentally severed cable.

The order issued Wednesday morning by U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. in Richmond is an effort to make up for several hours of lost time on Tuesday, which had been the last day to register before the November general election.

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

Both the voting rights advocates seeking the extension and the Virginia state officials they sued agreed that more time should be granted. The extension gives people a few more hours to register to vote online and in person.

“This extension is critical to ensuring that no eligible voter across Virginia is locked out and penalized as a result of the state’s failure,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, stated Wednesday following the judge’s order. “This underscores the need for states to put in place backstops to address 11th hour issues and disruptions in our electoral process.”

People can register to vote online through the state De- partment of Elections website at www.elections.virginia.gov/voterinfo or go to their local voter registrar’s office.

The Lawyers’ Committee filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Elections and state election officials seeking the extension. They were joined in the suit by the New Virginia Majority Education Fund, the League of Women Voters and the Virginia Civic Engagement Table.

“We 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.

Mr. Herring represented the defendants in the lawsuit but didn’t oppose the lawsuit’s goals, seeing it as a way to “vindicate the public interests of ensuring access to the voting booth and election integrity.”

As part of the consent decree, Mr. Herring said Virginia officials will “take all action necessary to provide notice to the public of the reopening and extension of this deadline” and provide additional information on alternative registration methods to the public and to voters attempting to register, if another outage occurs during the extension.

No objections to the extension were raised in court or from lawmakers.

Voting advocates said the accident couldn’t have come at a worse time. Many people wait until the day of the deadline to register, particularly after being reminded on social media and in the news.

State officials said a 10-gigabit optical fiber circuit was inadvertently cut during a Chesterfield County roadside

utilities project. Gov. Ralph S. Northam said the state lacked a backup plan for this particular cable, showing the need for continued efforts to create a secure network.

State Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner said the circuit was installed this spring to 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.

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

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 one.