Utility crew cuts fiber optic line, disrupts Virginia's voter registration system hours ahead of deadline

October 13, 2020 

Virginia's online voter registration system crashed Tuesday morning as the midnight deadline to take part in this year's general elections approached.

Chesterfield County utility crews accidentally damaged the line while working on a roadside project, according to the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.

The site was still down at 3 p.m., but a few minutes later, the link to register was active again. The incident comes amid a statewide surge in mail-in and early voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

A Virginia Department of Elections spokeswoman said crews were repairing a severed fiber optic cable near a data center in Chester off Route 10.

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The "fiber cut" was affecting data and network access for multiple commonwealth agencies - including the Department of Elections and registrars' offices around the state, according to the department.

"Verizon technicians are on site and working to repair the cut," the department said in a statement.

While online registration was down, visitors were given the option to print out an application, which would have to be submitted in person before the deadline. Portsmouth-based WAVY-TV reported that citizens trying to register or vote early in person would receive provisional ballots.

It's not the first time that computer glitches have disrupted Virginia's online voter registration system at the last minute.

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"Deja vu," Republican Party of Virginia spokesman John March told Fox News Tuesday. "The Department's system failed on the last day to register in 2016. Just one more election administration failure in a year when Democrats keep changing the rules as we get closer to Election Day."

In this Sept. 18 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. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post via AP, File)

In this Sept. 18 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. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post via AP, File)

In that election, a judge granted a small extension to the registration period after the system crashed under a rush of late applications that left an unknown number of voters unable to register.

Kristen Clarke, the executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which sued on behalf of voters after the disruption four years ago, called the latest interruption "astonishing."

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"This error is particularly astounding given that this same problem occurred at virtually the same time in 2016," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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