A severed fiber cable in Chesterfield County caused Virginia’s voter registration system and other systems used by state agencies to fail Tuesday.
The outage came on the final day Virginians can register to vote for the upcoming November election.
On Tuesday morning, the Department of Elections (DOE) was notified by the Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA) that a fiber cable had been cut near the Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center in the town of Chester, impacting data circuits and virtual private network connectivity for several state agencies, according to election officials.
This specifically impacted DOE’s citizen portal as well as local registrar’s offices throughout the Commonwealth, election officials said.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Governor Ralph Northam addressed the issue.
“This morning a Verizon fiber in Chesterfield County was inadvertently cut during a roadside utilities project that interrupted internet access for much of [the] Virginia government, including our Department of Elections,” Northam said. “Technicians are working to get this back up and running.”
— Shannon Lilly CBS 6 (@ShannonLillyTV) October 13, 2020
Keyanna Conner, secretary of administration for the governor, offered further details during the press conference.
“The cut occurred on the Commonwealth’s ten gigabyte circuit that we just actually recently installed this spring to enable us to handle the increased workload due to COVID-19 and our shift to remote work,” Conner said. “While we do have back up circuits, those circuits are not as large. We have shifted some of that workload, but because of the high demand it is causing some of our web applications to slow.”
Conner also said that a temporary solution would hopefully be in place later on Tuesday.
In an update on Twitter, VITA said they did not have an estimated time for restoration and would continue to provide updates.
The Virginia Star made multiple attempts to reach officials at VITA, but did not get a response.
The cut fiber also impacted the state’s voter registration database, which is used to check eligibility for people casting their ballots in person. Several counties wrote on social media that any Virginian who wanted to vote in person while the system was down could only cast a provisional ballot.
The statewide voter registration system is currently DOWN. This means that any voter coming to vote early in-person can not be checked in on the poll books & will only be able to vote a provisional ballot.
We will let you know when the system is back up & running.
— County of Albemarle (@AlbemarleCounty) October 13, 2020
Other state agencies impacted included the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Virginia Employment Commission and the Department of Health.
After news of the outages spread online, several state Democrats called for the voter registration deadline to be extended.
Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe demanded on Twitter that the “deadline MUST be extended.”
Current Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax wrote: “I am officially calling for Virginia’s Registration Deadline to be extended beyond today due to the service outages impacting voters’ ability to register statewide. We will work with the Administration to resolve this issue and ensure all voters have access to vote.”
I am officially calling for Virginia’s Registration Deadline to be extended beyond today due to the service outages impacting voters’ ability to register statewide.
— Justin Fairfax (@LGJustinFairfax) October 13, 2020
During his press conference, Northam also brought up a possible extension.
“We have been exploring all of our options to extend the voter registration deadline,” Northam said. “That deadline is set in the Code [of Virginia] and it does not appear that I have the authority to change it, that is up to the courts. And I would support a court ordered extension of the deadline.”
As of 3 p.m. on Tuesday, neither VITA nor the DOE had issued any further updates on the status of the restoration.
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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Voter Registration” by Marco Verch Professional Photographer. CC BY 2.0.