Voting rights groups: Lawsuit filed to extend Virginia’s voter registration deadline

Voting rights groups: Lawsuit filed to extend Virginia’s voter registration deadline
In-person voter registration (FILE) (Source: WVIR)

RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - A system outage that prevented voter registration on deadline line has prompted several voting rights groups to call on the courts to extend the deadline by 48. A federal lawsuit is now filed, and a court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe told WHSV News on Tuesday night the New Virginia Majority will file the lawsuit shortly. In a press release, the organization confirmed it did so with several voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters.

A severed fiber optic cable in Chesterfield County affected connectivity for multiple agencies and shut down Virginia’s online voter registration system on Tuesday which was the deadline for Virginians to register to vote. Registrars had to find ways to cope while the portal was offline. The outage lasted more than six hours.

“At the end of the day, we don’t want anyone disenfranchised,” McAuliffe said. “This is not a not a partisan issue -- Democrat, Republican, independent -- today was the last day. A lot of people wait until the end. They went today and a construction crew accidentally cut a cable. That’s no one’s fault. It happens. But, the remedy is to extend the deadline.”

Several public officials, including McAuliffe and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, called for the registration deadline to be extended because of the technical issues. During a press conference on Tuesday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said his hands are tied.

“That deadline is set in our code and it does not appear that I have the authority to change it that is up to the courts and I would support a court-ordered extension,” said Northam.

In 2016, a civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit against Virginia election officials after the state’s online voter registration system crashed. A judge granted a 36-hour extension.

According to a press release from the voting rights groups, its lawsuit also aims to extend early-voting by one day, because the outage impacted those wishing to cast their ballot early.

“Our democracy is strongest when we all have an opportunity to participate in our free and fair elections,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority. “The system-wide failure impacted Virginians across the Commonwealth, preventing people from registering to vote for the first time or updating their registrations, and prevented many voters from casting a regular ballot during in-person early voting. To ensure that every Virginian has an opportunity to participate in our democracy, it is imperative that the court provides the requested relief for those affected. Just as we have done in the past, New Virginia Majority will continue to defend Virginians' access to the ballot box.”

Attorney General Mark Herring has filed a response brief in support of the extending the deadline. In a news release tonight, Herring said it’s important to allow Virginians to make up for lost time.

“We are 21 days away from the most important election of our lifetimes and I want to make sure that every Virginian who wants to vote has the opportunity to do so.”

A hearing on the case is set for 9 a.m. in Virginia’s Eastern District Federal Court.

WHSV and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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