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Fairfax calls for voter registration deadline extension after statewide outage; website back online

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said the registration deadline should be extended after a cut fiber cable meant voters could not register on the final day of registration.

NORFOLK, Va. — Tuesday was the last day that people in Virginia could register to vote in the 2020 general election, but there was one problem: the statewide voter registration database went down for much of the day. That meant people who wanted to register online to vote weren't able to do it.

The problem was the result of someone in Chester cutting a fiber cable.

The Virginia Department of Elections explained what happened on its Facebook page:

This morning the Department of Elections was alerted by the Virginia Information Technology Agency that a fiber cut near Rt. 10 in Chester near the Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center (CESC) was impacting data circuits and virtual private network (VPN) connectivity for multiple Commonwealth agencies. Technicians are on site and working to repair the cut; updates will be provided as work progresses.

RELATED: Virginia voter registration down on last day to register before election

Shortly before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Elections said the website was back online.

The Virginia Information Technologies Agency said technicians had been working all day to repair the fiber cut. Around 3:30 p.m., they said that network connectivity had been restored to Virginia:

The Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) team, in partnership with Verizon and Chesterfield County, has restored network connectivity to the Commonwealth following an earlier fiber strike and subsequent repairs. The VITA team will continue to partner with state agencies to determine and mitigate any associated impacts.

During a news conference about Virginia's response to coronavirus Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Ralph Northam said state officials were exploring all options to extend the voter registration deadline.

Northam said he doesn't have the power to change the deadline since it's set in the Virginia Code. The change would have to come from the courts which could order an extension. 

Northam said he would support the deadline extension fully. In a tweet, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax also said he supports the change.

RELATED: VOTER'S GUIDE: Everything you need to know about registering and voting in Virginia and North Carolina

Virginia Beach was one of the governments to share the word of the outage early in the day:

BE ADVISED: If you were planning to vote early in-person at the municipal center this morning, the State database is down and anyone who comes in will be asked to vote with a provisional ballot. We will post an update when everything is back up and running.

Donna Patterson, Virginia Beach Voter Registrar, said the issue had been fixed shortly before 2 p.m.

She said, “We will do everything we can to help every citizen out." Patterson added that nearly 1,000 people have been coming to their registrar's office every day.

 Virginia Beach residents said they are feeling the repercussions.

“It was a lot inconvenience there’s a lot of people upset I’m sure," said Virginia Beach resident, Cindy Baker.

Resident James Stott said, “ I had to call Richmond no less than 10 times to get a hold of somebody and talk to them to find out what I really needed to do to register to vote today.”

“It’s going to discourage people even an absentee ballot, I have to request it, and get it and then come in and put it in," said resident Richard Harris.

The cut cable also was responsible for causing technological issues for the Virginia Employment Commission, Virginia Department of Health, and Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

"Due to an outage with Virginia's technology provider, the Virginia Employment Commission's website and associated systems are currently down," wrote a spokesperson for the VEC. "Therefore we are unable to perform many agency functions at this time."

At noon Tuesday, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency put out this statement:

In the early morning of Monday, Oct. 13, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) team received notification of network connectivity issues impacting its Verizon services.

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. The fiber is located near the Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center (CESC) VITA's headquarters. VITA, Verizon and Chesterfield County are working diligently to ensure that fiber repairs are made and connections are restored as soon as possible.

Technicians have been on site all morning working to repair the fiber cut as expeditiously as possible. While no estimated time of restoration is available as of noon, VITA will continue to provide updates from Verizon's technician crews as work progresses.

The VITA team continues to collaborate with partner agencies to determine and mitigate associated impacts.

We have everything Virginia and North Carolina voters need to know in our 2020 voting guide.