Virginia governor says he can't extend voter-registration deadline after system outage

Technical problems also prevented Virginians' ability to register to vote in 2016

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said on Tuesday that he does not have the power to extend the voter-registration deadline after a fiber optic cable was accidentally cut, causing the state’s online voter registration system to be shut down for several hours.

Voting advocates said the accident couldn't have a come a worse time, given that Tuesday was the last day to register before the November election

(Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

Speaking at a press conference, Northam said he supported extending the deadline, but that only the courts have the ability to make that call per Virginia law. 

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Northam, a Democrat, added that the state did not have a backup plan for this particular cable and the episode shows the need for the state to continue its efforts at creating a secure network.

"Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do," Northam said.

The Virginia Department of Elections said in a statement on Twitter that a "fiber cut" affected connectivity for multiple agencies, including the department's citizen portal and registrar's offices. The cable was inadvertently cut during a Chesterfield County roadside utilities project, according to the state's information technology agency.

Six hours later, the Department of Elections issued a statement saying the portal was back online. But the fallout already included threats of legal action and concern that voters were being disenfranchised at a crucial moment. Democratic members of Virginia's congressional delegation, meanwhile, are calling for a 72-hour extension.

This isn't the first time technical problems affected Virginians' ability to register to vote under a looming deadline. In 2016, an unknown number of people were not able to register because of unprecedented demand.

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A voter advocacy group, the New Virginia Majority Education Fund, sued for an extension and a federal judge granted a brief one to make up for the computer glitches that occurred.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.