(Richmond, Va.)- Virginia’s voter registration deadline must be extended for 48 hours and the state must make a significant effort to inform the public of this change, a lawsuit filed today by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Advancement Project argues.
The suit was filed against the Virginia Department of Elections and Virginia State Board of Elections and Commissioners. This morning, just before the final registration deadline, a severed cable caused the online voter registration website to crash, leaving thousands of eligible people in the dark.
The litigation was filed in District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Advancement Project National Office are representing the League of Women Voters of Virginia, the New Virginia Majority and the Virginia Civic Engagement Table.
“The commonwealth failed the public and it must grant a significant extension to ensure all Virginians are given an equal opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Extending the registration deadline is a common-sense step that can be taken to address the potential disenfranchisement of thousands of eligible people across Virginia. This now marks two presidential election cycles in a row in which the state’s registration system has collapsed and we hope that this will counsel in favor of stronger systems and backstops to prevent mass disenfranchisement in the future.”
The groups are also seeking a one-day extension of Virginia’s early-voting period, as the outage also interfered with early voting. Some individuals attempting to early vote today were instead only offered the opportunity to fill out a provisional ballot. The lawsuit claims that in order to provide adequate relief for impacted voters, the state must implement an additional day of early voting and take affirmative steps to ensure that the provisional ballots that were cast today are counted.
“Virginians’ voting rights shouldn’t be hanging by a fiber-optic cable,” said Jorge Vasquez, Power and Democracy Director of Advancement Project National Office. “Extending the registration and early voting deadlines is the only way that Virginia can adequately address the harm this outage has caused to voters. We know the commonwealth recognizes that this mishap has interfered with Virginians’ fundamental right to vote; we’re calling on Virginia to do right by its voters.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signaled he would support a court ordered extension of the deadline at a press conference this afternoon.
Plaintiffs said the following:
“Our democracy is strongest when we all have an opportunity to participate in our free and fair elections,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority. “The system wide failure impacted Virginians across the Commonwealth, preventing people from registering to vote for the first time or updating their registrations, and prevented many voters from casting a regular ballot during in-person early voting. To ensure that every Virginian has an opportunity to participate in our democracy, it is imperative that the court provides the requested relief for those affected. Just as we have done in the past, New Virginia Majority will continue to defend Virginians’ access to the ballot box.”
“This is not the first time Virginia has had glitches with its voter registration website during prime times. With more than 5 million eligible voters in Virginia, it is crucial that the system can handle this large volume in voter interest,” said Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia. “Voters must not be silenced due to technical difficulties. The League is stepping in to make sure voters are given the opportunities they deserve to exercise their right to vote in this important election.”
Irene Shin, Executive Director of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table said, “All Virginians who are eligible to vote have a right to make their voices heard in our democracy, and the state has an obligation to ensure that all eligible voters have that access. We’re not asking for anything more than for the courts and the Board of Elections to fix what was broken today. In order to right this wrong, the Board of Elections must grant an extension of the deadline.”
Read the full lawsuit here.