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Lawsuit filed to extend voter registration deadline in Virginia after system crash

The Virginia Information Technology Agency tweeted that a fiber cut near Route 10 in Chester, Virginia was to blame for Tuesday's outage.

RICHMOND, Va. — A lawsuit was filed Tuesday night to extend the voter registration deadline after system issues occurred on the last day residents could register to vote.

In a press release, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said they and the Advancement Project are filing a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Elections and Virginia State Board of Elections and Commissioners on behalf of eligible voters who may have been prevented from registering Tuesday.

“The commonwealth 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,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said. “Extending the registration deadline is a common-sense step that can be taken to address the potential disenfranchisement of thousands of eligible people across Virginia."

The lawyers are representing the New Majority Virginia, the League of Women Voters of Virginia, and the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, as they request an extra 48 hours for voter registration.

“What we’re asking for is something reasonable," Jorge Vasquez, program director of Power and Democracy with the Advancement Project, said. "48 hours so that way we can let individuals know the system’s still on, you can come and register to vote online."

Vasquez said the organizations reported individuals calling them all day asking what to do to register.

According to the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA), an accidentally cut cable caused the entire Virginia voter registration system to go down for hours on the last day to register to vote before election day. Just before 3:30 p.m., the Virginia Department of Elections tweeted out that the registration portal was back up and functioning properly.

VITA tweeted that a fiber cut near Route 10 in Chester, Virginia was to blame for Tuesday's outage. 

"Technicians learned that a Verizon fiber had been inadvertently struck as part of activities related to a Chesterfield County roadside utilities project, located off of Route 10 in Chester, Virginia," VITA said in a statement.

There was originally no time estimate given on when the problem would be fixed.

"Due to a network outage, the Citizen Portal is temporarily unavailable," the Virginia Department of Elections posted on their registration website Tuesday morning. "We are working with our network providers to restore service as quickly as possible." 

This is not the first time a lawsuit of this kind has been filed in Virginia. In 2016, the voter registration system crashed under the overwhelming weight of an influx of registrations. A lawsuit was filed, and a federal court extended the deadline by several days. 

WUSA9 spoke with John Freedman, one of the attorneys on that 2016 case about how this case may pan out. He said because the system was back up and running within the same day, the circumstance is different than it was four years ago.

"It's basically a much harder case," Freedman said. "The organization would have to make the case for an individual that for some reason, they weren't able to register between [when the portal was restored] and when the portal shuts down tonight at midnight."

RELATED: Officials fear parts of Virginia election system labeled 'unreliable' in 2018 may slow or crash on Election Day

Northam said during his Tuesday afternoon coronavirus briefing that he does not appear to have the authority to extend the voter registration deadline, according to state code, and it would have to come from the courts. 

“But for a lawsuit, all of these individuals who tried to register to vote today and couldn’t, at no fault of their own, won’t be able to," Vasquez said.

However, the governor expressed support for a court order to extend the deadline.

“I look forward to [the courts] assisting us and making sure we can extend the deadline,” Northam said.

Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax also tweeted his support for Virginia's voter registration deadline to be extended given the statewide outage.

"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," Fairfax said. "We will work with the Administration to resolve this issue and ensure all voters have access to vote."

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