Court orders Virginia voter registration deadline extended
Published 9:52 am Friday, October 21, 2016
A federal court ordered Virginia’s voter registration deadline extended to this Friday at 11:59 p.m., following a lawsuit by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights filed on behalf of Virginians who were unable to meet the original Oct. 17 deadline due to the statewide failure of the Department of Elections’ online registration system.
According to Peggy Davis, the registrar for Southampton County, the system experienced an unprecedented number of people attempting to register at the last possible minute before the original deadline, which caused it to crash and prevented some registration information from reaching residents’ local registrars.
Davis added that most of the people who attempted to register prior to the original deadline were successful, but her office may see a few more come in Friday due to the computer system crash. Anyone uncertain as to whether his or her registration was successful can confirm their status by going to vote.elections.virginia.gov/voterinformation, which will also display information on a person’s correct polling location.
Jennifer Maynard, the registrar for the city of Franklin, and Lisa Betterton, the registrar for Isle of Wight, both echoed Davis’ statement that, due to the crash, there is no way to know exactly how many people attempted to register by the original deadline and were unable to do so, short of each person checking his or her individual status online.
Maynard added that this is the first time in the history of Virginia that she is aware of when the voter registration deadline was extended.
Following the court’s ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia’s Executive Director, Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, issued the following statement:
“The ACLU of Virginia is pleased that the federal court has ordered extension of the voter registration deadline to Friday at 11:59 p.m. in the case filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights seeking to protect the voting rights of Virginians denied the ability to register to vote as result of the statewide failure of the Department of Elections’ online registration system. Thousands of Virginians attempted to register to vote prior to the Oct. 17 deadline, but were shut out of the system through no fault of their own. The right to vote is fundamental in our democracy, and we are glad that the federal court agreed that Virginians should have an extended opportunity to register to vote and participate in this year’s presidential election.”
However, Gastanaga and Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and other representatives all had some stern words for the Department of Elections concerning how avoidable the issue could have been.
“Local registrars attempted to warn the McAuliffe administration this was going to happen, and the General Assembly’s Privileges and Elections Committees attempted to bring these issues to light at a joint hearing last week,” the representatives wrote in an official statement following the ruling. “In both cases the Department of Elections brushed aside legitimate concerns instead of taking the prompt action that was needed.”
“The Department of Elections, the governor and the legislature must come to terms with the fact that this was an avoidable crisis,” Gastanaga said. “The online registration system went ‘live’ with General Assembly approval in July 2013. Nonetheless, in the ensuing three years, the Department has not received the funding for needed hardware and software upgrades nor has it developed the technical expertise needed to ensure that the online registration system is able to handle the predictable increase in usage in a presidential election year, particularly when many ‘voices’ are pushing the availability of the online system as the easiest way to register and to check one’s registration status.”