A federal judge on Wednesday extended the deadline for registering to vote in the U.S. state of Virginia by 48 hours. The order came one day after an accidentally severed fiber optic cable at a field project site caused the state’s online portal to shut down on the last day of registration before the November 3 general election.
U.S. District Judge John Gibney, in the state capital of Richmond, issued the order extending the deadline to make up for several hours of lost time. He said the disruption caused “a tremendous harm” to those who wanted to register.
Gibney’s order came after voting rights activists filed a lawsuit seeking an extension, which was agreed to by Virginia officials, who were named as defendants.
Virginia residents now have until 11:59 p.m. local time on Thursday to register online or in person.
The state’s Department of Elections said in a statement six hours after the system was shut down that the registration portal was back online, but that did not stop voting advocates from noting the technological failure occurred on the registration deadline.
The lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said the state should also make a “significant effort” to inform the public about the extension.
“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 suit said.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam told reporters Tuesday he supported a deadline extension. Northam also said the state did not have a backup plan for the severed cable but that the disruption highlighted the need for the state to continue efforts to develop a secure network.
The disruption occurred as three tight congressional races are under way in Virginia, the outcomes of which could affect the makeup of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Democratic freshmen Representatives Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria are locked in close races in the state’s 7th District and 2nd District, respectively. Republican Bob Good and Democrat Cameron Webb are vying for the open 5th District seat.
In 2016, an undetermined number of Virginia residents were unable to meet the voter registration deadline because of unprecedented demand. A federal judge granted a brief extension of the deadline after a lawsuit filed by the New Virginia Majority Education Fund.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which filed the 2016 lawsuit on behalf of the fund, swiftly denounced Tuesday’s disruption, saying Virginia election officials “have again failed the public.”