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Virginia Online Registration Portal Left Unworkable—Just Hours Before Deadline—After Cable 'Accidentally Cut'

"Election officials in Virginia have again failed the public," said the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

A very long line of voters wait to cast their ballots at the Fairfax County Government Center for the November presidential election on first day of early voting in Virginia in Fairfax, VA on September 18, 2020. Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Civil rights organizations on Tuesday vowed to make sure Virginia residents are able to vote in the November elections after—for the second time in a recent presidential election year—the state's online voter registration portal crashed.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law expressed outrage over reports that a fiber optic cable was severed near the state capital of Richmond, cutting access to online voter registration via the website and in local registrars' offices. 

"This error is particularly astounding given that this same problem occurred at virtually the same time in 2016. It is astonishing that Virginia has not learned from failures of the not-so-distant past."
—Kristen Clarke, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

"Election officials in Virginia have again failed the public," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee. "The state's online voter registration portal has crashed on the eve of the registration deadline, leaving thousands of eligible people in the dark."

The organization sued the state of Virginia in October 2016 after the state's online voter registration system crashed and malfunctioned, and secured a 36-hour extension of the voter registration deadline—ensuring the right to vote for "tens of thousands of voters," Clarke said in a statement. 

"This error is particularly astounding given that this same problem occurred at virtually the same time in 2016," Clarke said. "It is astonishing that Virginia has not learned from failures of the not-so-distant past."

The Lawyers' Committee told VPM, Richmond's local NPR affiliate, that it plans to sue the state again to secure another voter registration deadline extension. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the state's registration website was advising residents to print out and complete a paper application and either postmark it or deliver it to a voter registration office by the end of the day Tuesday. 

Clarke asked Virginians who are only able to register online to get in touch with the Lawyers' Committee via its Election Protection hotline. 

Given relentless efforts by the Republican Party to keep Americans from voting this year—including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's restriction allowing only one absentee ballot drop-off location per county, a similar effort in Ohio, and a requirement that absentee ballots in South Carolina include a witness signature—voting rights advocates expressed skepticism on social media regarding local reports that the fiber optic cable was cut "accidentally."   

"The first practical lesson I received in Journalism in Lebanon in 2000, was not to use the word 'accidentally' without enough evidence," tweeted The National correspondent Joyce Karam. 

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