A federal judge Wednesday extended the deadline for registering to vote until 11:59 p.m. Thursday in light of a construction accident that shut down the online voter registration system for several hours Tuesday, which was originally the last day to register.
“What we have here is a case where somebody forgot to call Miss Utility in Chesterfield County,” said U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. during a brief hearing. Gibney’s order is for online and in-person voter registration, both disrupted Tuesday after a Verizon cable was accidentally struck by equipment at a sewer project outside the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.
The agency, headquartered in Chesterfield, provides technical support for several state agencies including the Virginia Department of Elections’. The Virginia Employment Commission and the Virginia Department of Health also had connectivity problems.
The cable was repaired by 3:30 p.m., allowing the Virginia Department of Elections’ online portal to continue operations eight hours before the deadline.
In 2016, after a computer glitch, Virginians were given an extension for an additional 36 hours to register.
Calls for extending the registration deadline began Tuesday. The New Virginia Majority Education Fund, the Virginia Civic Engagement Table and the League of Women Voters, represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, filed a complaint in federal court asking that the deadline be extended until Thursday.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring quickly responded to the complaint, telling Gibney that granting the extension “would vindicate the public interests of ensuring access to the voting booth and election integrity.”
Herring’s brief noted that Virginia law does not permit the defendants — the Virginia Department of Elections, the Virginia State Board of Elections and several elections officials — to extend the deadline.
Gibney, remarking that he had read the briefs submitted by both sides, said he would issue the order and did not hear any arguments from the lawyers for the plaintiffs or the attorney general’s office.
Among other things, the judge said that his court had jurisdiction in the case and that the plaintiffs had shown they would suffer irreparable harm unless the deadline was extended.
Gibney said the order would direct state officials to issue news releases and other public notice about the extension and that local registrars be notified of his order by 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
In a release after Gibney’s ruling, the Department of Elections said eligible Virginians may submit a voter registration application or update an existing voter registration record in any of the following methods:
- In-person to the office of their local general registrar by 5 p.m. on Thursday
- By mail postmarked on or before Thursday
- Online at elections.virginia.gov/voterinfo through 11:59 p.m. on Thursday
- To a designated state agency, such as the DMV or a social services office, by Thursday
Currently registered Virginia voters and eligible Virginians that have already submitted a registration application do not need to take any additional action.
Department of Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said the ruling “gives eligible Virginians additional time to register or update their current voter registration record. We encourage Virginians to access the Citizen’s Portal at elections.virginia.gov/voterinfo today or use one of the many other options available for registering to vote.”
The department also said that in addition to registering to vote, Virginians may also check their current voter registration status, find their polling location and apply for an absentee ballot on the department’s Citizen Portal.
As of Tuesday, three weeks before Election Day, more than 1 million Virginians already had voted — 578,990 in person and 479,995 through the mail — with 619,483 mail-in ballots still out, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
In the Richmond area, 83,912 residents had voted in-person as of Tuesday: 31,501 in Henrico County; 23,134 in Chesterfield; 16,843 in Richmond; and 12,434 in Hanover County.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said of the accident and Gibney’s ruling, “It’s really kind of an act of God. I mean, somebody didn’t do something right, but that’s not the voters’ fault.”
“I think this is a fair, pragmatic, just common-sense resolution of the issue,” Tobias said.
In a prepared statement after Gibney’s ruling Wednesday, Herring said, “Today’s agreement to extend the voter registration deadline is a big win for democracy. Any eligible Virginian who was not able to register to vote yesterday can now do so.”
A spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia said, “The RPV has two public service announcements today: Citizens — if you’re not registered, put in your application by Thursday; State Government — Call Miss Utility at 811 before you dig.”