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A broken internet cable took down Virginia’s voter registration website hours before the deadline

Online registration was brought back up and extended, but Virginia is not the only state this year to have technical difficulties at a crucial time.

Tubes for fiber optic cables.
Accidentally severed fiber optic cables have taken down Viriginia’s voter registration website.
Jens Büttner/picture alliance via Getty Images
Sara Morrison is a senior Vox reporter who has covered data privacy, antitrust, and Big Tech’s power over us all for the site since 2019.
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In what is fast becoming a pattern for voter registration in the 2020 presidential election, technical difficulties befell another state’s voter registration website on the last day citizens can register. This time, Virginians were locked out of the ability to register online.

For about six hours on Tuesday, visitors to Virginia’s voter registration website were greeted with a message saying it was “temporarily unavailable” due to a “network outage” that could not have come at a worse time.

Screenshot of error message on Virginia’s voter registration website

The cause, according to the state’s Information Technology Agency, was that a Verizon fiber optic cable that provided internet to the state’s Enterprise Solutions Center was somehow cut, taking the voter registration site down with it.

“A crew working overnight on a roadside utilities project severed fiber cables,” Krys Grondorf of Verizon told Recode. “It was not a Verizon crew that severed the cable — it was a county roadside utilities project.”

The website was back up and running by around 3:30 pm, and Virginia’s attorney general requested a deadline extension before the end of the day.

He had good news on Wednesday morning: Voter registration has been extended, giving Virginians until October 15 at 11:59 pm to register.

There is precedent for this extension: In 2016, Virginia’s site crashed just before the deadline due to too much traffic. A federal judge ordered the state to extend the deadline by 36 hours to make up for it.

Last week, Florida’s voter registration website crashed in the final hours of registration. While the Florida secretary of state initially said the outage was brief, it turned out to last for several hours, potentially preventing tens of thousands of registrations. The state ended up extending registration for seven hours the next day, albeit in the middle of the day and with little notice.

Update, October 14, 10 am ET: Updated with deadline extension news.

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