Virginia’s voter registration site goes offline on deadline date


The outage was caused by a broken cable near the Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center.

James Martin/CNET

This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET’s coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

The last chance to register to vote in Virginia was temporarily interrupted on Tuesday, after a severed cable took the state’s voter registration website down. It’s the last day to register to vote in the state, but the outage could potentially lock out thousands of voters. 

Election officials already anticipated a surge of voters for the 2020 presidential race, many of whom would be registering online because of the coronavirus pandemic. While its website was down, Virginia’s department of elections encouraged people to register to vote by printing out a paper application. 

“Due to a network outage the Citizen Portal is temporarily unavailable,” a notice on the voter registration website said. “We are working with our network providers to restore service as quickly as possible.”

The outage was caused by a cut fiber cable near the Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center, the department of elections said. The cut cable affected several of Virginia’s websites, not just the voter registration site. 

The Virginia Information Technologies Agency said on Tuesday morning that technicians were working on-site to repair the cut, and the page came back online after a six-hour outage.

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Justin Fairfax, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, is pushing for an extension to the voter registration deadline because of the 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 on Twitter

The Department of Elections didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether it would be extending the voter registration deadline.

Voters in Florida experienced a similar situation when the state’s voter registration website crashed on its deadline date for seven hours. Florida’s election officials extended the deadline by seven hours the next day, but a state judge estimated that 21,722 people were potentially disenfranchised from voting, even with the extension. 

The technical difficulties surrounding the voter registration process could be used in disinformation campaigns on social media, which look to sow discord about democracy. In the past, foreign disinformation efforts have used voting machine glitches and images of long lines to suggest that election results were rigged.

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