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Virginia Extends Voter Registration After Site Went Down Hours Before Deadline

A man casts his ballot for the 2020 presidential election at an early voting location in Alexandria, Virginia.
Sarah Silbiger
Getty Images
A man casts his ballot for the 2020 presidential election at an early voting location in Alexandria, Virginia.

A federal court has extended Virginia's voter registration deadline after an accidentally clipped fiber optic cable took down the Department of Elections website on Tuesday for hours on the final day of voter registration.

Voters in Virginia will now be able to register until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, in person or online.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said a cable was cut during roadside work on a utilities project, knocking out of most of the state government's Internet service on Tuesday. The service was restored several hours later.

A coalition of groups, led by the New Virginia Majority Education Fund, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Richmond to extend the deadline. The groups argued that minority and younger voters would be disproportionately affected because they tend to register at higher rates in the final days before the deadline.

"Voting is a right, not a privilege, and everyone who is eligible must have the chance to cast their ballot during the 2020 election season," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit. "This extension is critical to ensuring that no eligible voter across Virginia is locked out and penalized as a result of the state's failure. This underscores the need for states to put in place backstops to address 11th hour issues and disruptions in our electoral process."

A record number of Virginians have already voted early, but the outage caused confusion among election clerks across the state on Tuesday.

This isn't the first time a court had to extend the state's voter registration deadline. In 2016, the registration website crashed due to a surge in applications on the final day to register. Voter advocacy groups sued and a federal court agreed to extend the deadline.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.