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Voter Registration in Virginia Extended After Last-Minute Technical Mishap

Voters line up in Fairfax, Virginia on Sept. 18, 2020.
Voters line up in Fairfax, Virginia on Sept. 18, 2020.
Photo: Anthony Caballero-Reynolds/AFP (Getty Images)

A federal judge in Virginia has extended voter registration through the end of Thursday after its online system became inaccessible just hours before the state due date on Tuesday, Bloomberg reported.

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U.S. District Court Judge John A. Gibney Jr. sided with voting rights groups that the snafu was unacceptable, writing that it would do “irreparable harm” to the rights of Virginians who had yet to register when the system went down. Authorities originally explained the inaccessibility of the registration service as due to a mysteriously cut fiber optic line; according to Bloomberg, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency has shed somewhat more light on how the cable was damaged, saying it was the result of an accident during a roadside utility project in Chesterfield County.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law brought a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Elections, Virginia State Board of Elections, and several state election officials demanded that the deadline be extended by 48 hours. Per the Associated Press, it argued that the service outage was de facto disenfranchisement:

“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 lawsuit said.

If the deadline isn’t extended, the lawsuit said, “Plaintiffs themselves will be prevented from helping citizens register to vote through the online voter registration system, frustrating their core mission and activities in advancing that mission, and thereby disenfranchising those citizens in the coming general election.”

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Judge Gibney’s ruling went without challenge from either Democrats or Republicans, according to Politico, which noted that a similar 36-hour extension was provided to Virginians in 2016 after the same system crashed due to heavy web traffic. The extended window allowed over 25,000 people to register that otherwise would have been out of luck.

Early voting in Virginia, where poll averages show Democratic nominee Joe Biden has a nearly 13% lead over Donald Trump, has surged to unprecedented levels in 2020, with over one million ballots cast so far.

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DISCUSSION

Tom, this wasn’t a technical issue. It was a fuckup.

The fiber was cut by Chesterfield County while working on underground utilities. Which is bad.

What’s worse, and makes this a fuckup, is that this is not the first time this has happened. In 2016, a federal judge ordered an extension of online voter registration because of a fiber cut. Almost every commercial data center has more than one inbound fiber line to prevent this from taking them out. The state of Virginia doesn’t, and they’ve gone down because it before? That a fuckup.