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Virginia Voter Registration Site Experiences Outage On Final Day To Register

"I voted" stickers at the Arlington Art Center in Arlington, Va. Several prominent Virginians including Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax are calling for an extension to the voter registration deadline.
Tasos Katopodis
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"I voted" stickers at the Arlington Art Center in Arlington, Va. Several prominent Virginians including Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax are calling for an extension to the voter registration deadline.

A severed fiber optic line cable forced Virginia's online voter registration system to shut down for much of Tuesday, the last day for residents of the commonwealth to register for next month's general election.

The Virginia Department of Elections announced the issue on social media shortly before 10 a.m. local time. At about 3:30 p.m., it said the problem was resolved, nearly six hours after it began.

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

In a separate tweet, VITA said the fiber was cut near Route 10 in the Chester area, south of the Richmond. Visitors to the state's Citizen Portal portion of its election website were greeted with a message saying the "Citizen Portal is temporarily unavailable."

As news of the debacle spread, some called for election officials to extend Virginia's voting registration deadline.

"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," Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said in a tweet.

Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin, who represents Virginia's 4th Congressional District, agreed with Fairfax.

"It is imperative that we extend the deadline to ensure all Virginians have a chance to exercise their right to vote," McEachin tweeted.

Virginia Democratic Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly and Jennifer Wexton also urged for an extension, adding that all Virginians "must be given every opportunity" to take part in the election process.

"The shutdown of Virginia's online voter registration threatens to prevent many Virginians from casting their ballots in the 2020 election," theysaid in a statement. "Three weeks before the election, nearly one million Virginians have already voted, which speaks to the importance voters across the Commonwealth attach to participating in this election."

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the ACLU of Virginia and the state conference of the NAACP also called for an extension to Virginia's registration deadline, Virginia Public Media reports. A decision on the matter will likely have to go through the courts.

The severed cable also caused problems for people who showed up for in-person absentee voting in some areas, according to NPR member station WAMU in Washington, D.C.

"The statewide registration database is currently down, but we are able to process voters for in-person voting routinely," Craig Fifer, a spokesman for the City of Alexandria, told WAMU. "Some jurisdictions that are checking voters directly into the statewide registration system are having them cast provisional ballots, but that's not the case in Alexandria."

The Washington Post reports that in Loudoun County, Va., the outage prevented election officials from processing applications for voter registration and from printing the necessary labels needed to mail those ballots.

"It's terrible because we're sitting here and we have no idea what's happening," Judy Brown, the general registrar in Loudoun County, told the Post.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.