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Today, Virginia news outlet WUSA9 reported that an “accidentally cut cable has caused the entire Virginia voter registration system to go down on the last day to register to vote before election day.”  A tweet this morning by the Virginia Department of Elections confirmed that “a fiber cut near the Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center was impacting data circuits and VPN connectivity for multiple agencies. This has affected the citizen portal along w/ registrar’s offices.” The blackout is ongoing, statewide, and has affected several agencies.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the system has failed. During an interview at the end of September, a local election official raised concern about the reliability of the system called VERIS (Virginia Election and Registration Information System). The general registrar of Fairfax City, Brenda F. Cabrera stated that she could not connect her poll books on day one (September 18, 2020) of early voting to the system. “We’re supposed to be able to connect our poll books into VERIS, and upload everyone who voted that day into the system.”  Verification of voter rolls is a key way to prevent voter fraud. On September 16, just two days prior to the voter roll glitch, Virginia Elections Commissioner Christopher E. Piper commented about the state of the VERIS system. Piper reassured voters that when “VERIS is being used by the citizens and the registrars, that it is in optimal performance.” 

WUSA9 also reported that “[i]n an October 2019 Virginia Department of Elections survey of 235 general registrars, election board members, and local staff, dozens of VERIS users pleaded for immediate fixes, with some openly questioning if the network could handle the demands of 2020. In terms of VERIS system performance, users seemed most frustrated with the reliability of the system.”  A report prepared in 2018 for the state General Assembly indicated “longstanding reliability problems that continue to slow processing speed during peak usage.” 

The VERIS system has crashed in a significant way on two other occasions. A 2014 failure shut down the state’s results website. In 2016, an error “temporarily halted” Virginia registration. In a year marked by the Coronavirus, where unprecedented numbers of mail-in ballots are being sent and early voting dates are being expanded, an information voting system failure puts further strain on an election that is already exceptionally burdened. In Falls Church, VA, the Director of Elections David Bjerke said they are averaging “between 100-200 voters every day just in early voting.” When comparing this year to 2016, the difference in voting behavior is enormous.

In a recent interview, Djerge remarked that voting in 2020 “does not compare at all. Everything is unprecedented right now. The first day that I could send out ballots four years ago, I mailed 18. In the first day I could mail them out this year, we sent 3,300…It has been an incredible amount of turnout. The City of Falls Church has seen 1/3 ballots cast and we still have four weeks before this election.” A Fairfax County Government tweet confirms Djerge’s observations when it exclaimed in early October, “We’ve mailed out more than 200,000 vote by mail ballots so far. This is more than the total number of absentee votes in 2016.” 

On Friday the 10th of October, the Washington Post reported that “887,000 Virginians had voted early in person, a number that amounts to nearly a quarter of the 3.75 million ballots counted for the entire 2016 general election.” In response to the outage, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is calling for an extension for voter registration. In his tweet this morning, he officially extended Virginia’s registration deadline.

Governor Ralph Northam also weighed in, saying that he is exploring all options to extend the voter registration but that the “deadline is set in our code and it does not appear [he has] the authority to change it. That is up to the courts.”   Virginia has already made significant changes for the election in 2020 due to the Coronavirus. Those changes include the no excuse, 45 day vote in person” provision that was foiled today by the severed cable.