AP

Cut cable shuts down Virginia voter portal; lawsuit filed

Oct 14, 2020, 6:17 AM
FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2020 file photo, Alexandria residents wait in a socially distance line to ...
FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2020 file photo, Alexandria residents wait in a socially distance line to cast their ballots for the November presidential election on first day of early voting in Virginia, at the Voter Registration Office in Alexandria, Va. A severed fiber optic cable shut down Virginia's online voter registration system Tuesday, Oct. 13 the last day to register before the November general election. The Virginia Department of Elections said in statement on Twitter that a “fiber cut” was affecting connectivity for multiple agencies, including the citizen portal and registrar's offices, and technicians were working to repair the problem. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post via AP, File)
(John McDonnell/The Washington Post via AP, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — An accidentally severed fiber optic cable that shut down Virginia’s online voter registration system for several hours Tuesday, the last day to register before the November general election, has prompted a lawsuit from a civil rights organization.

The Virginia Department of Elections said in a statement on Twitter that a “fiber cut” affected connectivity for multiple agencies, including the department’s citizen portal and registrar’s offices. The cable was inadvertently cut during a Chesterfield County roadside utilities project, according to the state’s information technology agency.

Six hours later, the Department of Elections issued a statement saying the portal was back online. But the fallout led to concerns that voters were being disenfranchised at a crucial moment.

Voting advocates said the accident couldn’t have come at a worse time and lambasted state officials for the technological failure. The day of the deadline is when many Virginians decide to register, particularly after being reminded on social media and in the news.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit Tuesday night saying voter registration must be extended for 48 hours and that the state should make “a significant effort” to tell the public about the change. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Virginia Department of Elections; the Virginia State Board of Elections; elections board chairman Robert H. Brink and vice chairman John O’Bannon; Christopher Piper, commissioner of the Department of Elections; and Jamilah D. Lecruise, secretary of the board of elections.

“Absent relief, voters who attempted to register to vote through the online portal on October 13, 2020, but were unable through no fault of their own, will be absolutely disenfranchised in the upcoming elections,” the lawsuit said.

If the deadline isn’t extended, the lawsuit said, “Plaintiffs themselves will be prevented from helping citizens register to vote through the online voter registration system, frustrating their core mission and activities in advancing that mission, and thereby disenfranchising those citizens in the coming general election.”

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a news release that Virginia “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.”

Democratic members of Virginia’s congressional delegation had called for a 72-hour extension.

U.S. Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly and Jennifer Wexton said in a statement that they “hope the courts will swiftly grant such an extension” and account for the time it will take to inform the public of a new deadline.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said at a press conference that he supports extending the deadline. But he said it appears that only the courts have the ability to change it.

Northam, a Democrat, said the state did not have a backup plan for this particular cable and the episode shows the need for the state to continue its efforts at creating a secure network.

“Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do,” Northam said.

Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner said the cut occurred on a 10-gigabit optical fiber circuit that was installed this spring to help the state handle increased web demand during the coronavirus. She said backup circuits aren’t as large as the main circuit, but plans are in place to upgrade them.

Virginia, which has 13 electoral votes, is not considered a marquee battleground state in the presidential race by political observers. But three congressional races are considered highly competitive, and their outcomes could affect the makeup of the U.S. House.

Democratic freshmen Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria are facing tough challenges in the 7th District and 2nd District, respectively, and the 5th District seat is open. The races in the 2nd and 5th districts are considered a “toss up” by the Cook Political Report. Spanberger’s seat is listed as leaning Democratic.

While the site was down, people who wanted to register could still fill out applications in person. They could also mail paper copies, as long as they are postmarked Tuesday, said Vicki Lewis, the voter registrar for the city of Newport News. People who wanted to vote early were given provisional ballots, which will be counted the day after this year’s Nov. 3 election.

This isn’t the first time technical problems affected Virginians’ ability to register to vote under a looming deadline.

In 2016, an unknown number of people were not able to register because of unprecedented demand, in part because of social media postings reminding people of the registration deadline that year.

A voter advocacy group, the New Virginia Majority Education Fund, sued for an extension and a federal judge granted a brief one to make up for the computer glitches that occurred.

___

Finley reported from Norfolk.

___

This story has been corrected to show it was a 10-gigabit cable, not 10-gigabyte.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

The White House to ask for less money to fund border wall...
ACACIA CORONADO and GISELA SALOMON Associated Press

Increase in Venezuelan migration is felt across US

Dave and Dujanovic discuss the causes of immigration and are joined by U of U political science professor. Listen live at 10:05 EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — It cost Nerio two months and everything he had to get from Venezuela to the U.S., traveling mainly by foot and watching as exhausted fellow migrants were assaulted […]
1 day ago
In Iran, protests have led to violent clashes between citizens and security forces. Protesters pict...
The Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

The scope of Iran's ongoing unrest, the worst in several years, still remains unclear as protesters in more than a dozen cities.
4 days ago
U.S. Capitol pictured. The House just voted on an election law...
MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press

House passes election law overhaul in response to Jan. 6

The bill, which is similar to bipartisan legislation moving through the Senate, would overhaul an arcane 1800s-era statute known as the Electoral Count Act
5 days ago
Trump pictured. A lawsuit against Trump was just filed in new york...
Associated Press

NY attorney general sues Donald Trump and his company

Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit is the culmination of the Democrat's three-year civil investigation of Trump and the Trump Organization.
6 days ago
el helicoide caracas...
RODRIQUE NGOWI, GISELA SALOMON and CLAUDIA TORRENS Associated Press

Surprise is key part of migrant travel from Florida, Texas

EDGARTOWN, Mass. (AP) — The chief executive of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services was wrapping up work when she looked outside to see 48 strangers at her office with luggage, backpacks and red folders that included brochures for her organization. The Venezuelan migrants who were flown to the wealthy Massachusetts island from San Antonio on Wednesday […]
8 days ago
school classrooms...
Collin Binkley Associated Press

Reading, math scores fell sharply during pandemic, data show

WASHINGTON (AP) — Math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds fell dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic, according to a new federal study — offering an early glimpse of the sheer magnitude of the learning setbacks dealt to the nation’s children. Reading scores saw their largest decrease in 30 years, while math […]
12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Cut cable shuts down Virginia voter portal; lawsuit filed