RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A federal judge ordered an extension of Virginia’s voter registration period after a system outage prevented people from completing an application and checking their status online for hours on Tuesday–the original deadline.
Virginians now have until Thursday, October 15th at 11:59PM to register using the Virginia Department of Election’s online citizen portal.
In-person registrations at a DMV, social services office or general registrars office have to be completed by 5PM on that same day. Registrations sent in by mail have to be postmarked on or before October 15th
Judge John Adrian Gibney Jr. ordered the extension on Wednesday morning in response to a lawsuit filed by multiple voting advocacy groups, including the New Virginia Majority Educational Fund, the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, and the League of Women Voters of Virginia.
The lawsuit was filed after a Verizon fiber line was accidentally cut during a roadside utilities project, shutting down online services for multiple state agencies on Tuesday.
The online voter registration system resumed operations around 4pm that same day but the lawsuit argued that the brief lapse could’ve deprived thousands from participating in the electoral process, especially minorities and younger voters.
New Virginia Majority Co-Executive Director Tram Nguyen said about 28,000 Virginians were able to register during a 36-hour extension ordered in a response to an outage in 2016.
Nguyen said the shut down on Tuesday likely had a big impact. She said the day of the deadline is typically one of their busiest. Plus, many are relying on online alternatives during the pandemic.
“With COVID-19, we have stopped most of our in-person activities, including voter registration. So we encourage everyone to register online,” Nguyen said. “We will walk you through the process.”
Nguyen also encouraged Virginians to check their registration status online to make sure any issues are worked out before it’s time to vote.
In Richmond on Wednesday, Dana Culley took advantage of the extension. She said she registered for the first time since serving a prison sentence and having her rights restored.
“I feel like a million-dollar person today,” Culley said. “‘I thank god for this opportunity for me to vote.”
In a statement, Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson praised the judge’s decision to extend the registration period but criticized the events that led up to it.
“Voters should not be penalized for the latest of the Northam administration’s failures in election administration,” Anderson wrote. “RPV has two public service announcements today: Citizens – if you’re not registered, put in your application by Thursday; State Government – Call Miss Utility at 811 before you dig.”
The Virginia Department of Elections and the Virginia Information Technologies Agency declined interview requests on Wednesday. It’s unclear if anything is being done to add redundancies in the system before Election Day.
In a zoom interview, Attorney General Mark Herring reassured Virginians.
“Yes we’ve had a lot of challenges thrown at us over the last several months,” Herring said. “I’m committed to making sure these elections go smoothly in Virginia. That your vote is going to count. That you can have confidence in the electoral system.”
Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said extending the deadline was the right thing to do to protect Virginians’ right to vote. “There is too much on the line in this election and we need every Virginians’ voice heard,” McAuliffe said.
Virginians can check their current voter registration status, find their polling location and apply for an absentee ballot at elections.virginia.gov/voterinfo.