- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A civil rights lawyer said that more than 20,000 Virginians could register to vote by the end of Thursday, after a federal judge in Richmond extended the registration deadline by 48 hours due to a severed fiber optic cable shutting down the state’s web operations on Tuesday.

Attorney Ryan Snow of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said it is “hard to say exactly how many” will register, but he believes turnout will be similar to the nearly 28,000 Virginians who registered during an extension of the 2016 deadline.

“I would expect similar numbers this year, if not higher, given the level of civic engagement we are seeing this year,” said Mr. Snow, whose organization had filed a lawsuit on behalf of three civil rights groups late Tuesday seeking the extension.

U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. on Wednesday morning granted the 48-hour extension, saying that the shutdown of the state’s online voter registration portal caused “a tremendous harm” to Virginians who had planned to register Tuesday, the final day for registration for November’s general elections.

Judge Gibney’s ruling allows Virginians to register through Thursday. In-person registration must be completed by 5 p.m., online registration must be done by 11:59 p.m. and mail-in registration must be postmarked no later than Thursday.

Several state officials were named as defendants in the lawsuit, and both sides supported the request for extending the deadline.

Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Chris Piper, one of the defendants, said in a press release that the department “welcomes” the federal court’s decision.

The state Republican and Democratic parties, along with Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, also expressed support for the extension.

Early Tuesday, a 10-gigabit fiber optic circuit was accidentally severed during a Chesterfield County roadside utilities project, which caused an internet outage that lasted a few hours and affected several state agency websites.

The state Department of Elections tweeted about the incident just before 10 a.m. Tuesday, and later tweeted that the voter portal was working again around 3:30 p.m.

A temporary repair involving an above-ground line was implemented first and a permanent, underground line solution was completed later, said Lindsay LeGrand, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.

The fiber optic cable was installed in spring to help the “increased workload” and “shift to remote work” due to the pandemic, state Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner said Tuesday during a briefing.

Mr. Northam also said there was no backup plan for the cable “but it’s being worked on.” Ms. Conner added that a resiliency plan to upgrade both the main and backup circuits is in the works.

In 2016, an unknown number of people were not able to register because of computer glitches amid unprecedented demand spurred by social media reminders.

A voter advocacy group, the New Virginia Majority Education Fund, sued for an extension, and a federal judge granted a 36-hour one.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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