Federal Judge Extends Virginia Voter Registration Deadline

October 14, 2020 by Dan McCue
Voting tags at St. Augustine College are on display as Chicago voters hit the polls on April 2, 2019. U.S. officials said they see little evidence of coordinated voter fraud or efforts by foreign adversaries to manipulate mail-in balloting ahead of the November election. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

RICHMOND, Va. – A federal judge on Wednesday 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.

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 order by U.S. District Judge John Gibney, Jr. in Richmond comes in response to a lawsuit filed by a civil rights group Tuesday night after a severed fiber optic cable shut down the state’s online voter registration system.

Tuesday was the last day to register to vote in Virginia before the November general election, but an accidental cutting of the cable during a roadside utilities project outside of Richmond shut down the online registration for several hours.

The lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law urges the Virginia Department of Elections to extend online registration for an additional 48 hours and for the state to make a “significant” effort to notify the public about the change.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a news release that Virginia “failed the public and it must grant a significant extension to ensure all Virginians are given an equal opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”

In a statement posted to Twitter, the Department of Elections said the mishap disrupted connectivity for several state agencies.

Voting rights advocates argued the outage, which lasted six hours, came at absolutely the worst time and undoubtedly disenfranchised many voters.

They contended deadline day is when many Virginians decide to register, particularly after being reminded to do so by the media.

“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.

The defendants named in the lawsuit were the Virginia Department of Elections; the Virginia State Board of Elections; elections board chairman Robert Brink and vice chairman John O’Bannon; Christopher Piper, commissioner of the Department of Elections; and Jamilah Lecruise, secretary of the board of elections.

Virginia, which has 13 electoral votes, is not considered a marquee battleground state in the presidential race by most political observers. But three congressional races are considered highly competitive, and their outcomes could affect the makeup of the U.S. House.

Democratic freshmen Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria are facing tough challenges in the 7th District and 2nd District, respectively, and the 5th District seat is open. The races in the 2nd and 5th districts are considered a “toss up” by the Cook Political Report. Spanberger’s seat is listed as leaning Democratic. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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