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Virginians who registered online for November elections faced postponement

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Voters in Virginia who have yet to register for the upcoming elections got an early Christmas present: Their deadline to do so was extended to Thursday at noon after an early-morning outage of the state’s online voter registration system left them unable to complete the process.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced the extension in a tweet on Wednesday, citing the “tremendous response” from voters to the outage. Voters registered online received text messages with instructions to visit the registrar’s office.

“Due to the tremendous response of voters, the early deadline has been extended to Thursday at noon and registrations may be made in person until midnight this evening,” the governor’s office said.

The state posted a statement on Twitter to the effect that hundreds of voters had a “serious disruption” of their voter registration systems, and “the registrar’s office experienced a loss of internet service” at about 7 a.m. Monday.

“Law enforcement personnel with the Virginia State Police and the Virginia Department of Elections were called in and deployed to the office and commenced a full, out-of-service recovery,” said the statement, also posted on the registrar’s website.

The state has experienced online disruptions in the past — in 2015 and 2016 — but those were minor. This time, the outage lasted several hours.

The state ran late openings at its 18 voter registration offices around the state on Tuesday because the outage meant they couldn’t process any new applications.

To register to vote, a voter must give his or her birth date and the legislative district where he or she wants to vote.

Virginia voters have until 12 noon on November 6 to register online, which is the last day voters can register in person to vote in the November 6 elections. And voters may register or update their voter registration online until 11:59 p.m. on November 6, the deadline to register or change voting location.

The online registration system has not been working since before the midterm elections in 2018. But that in itself has been no surprise. In 2014, the Election Protection project, a nonpartisan coalition of activists and lawyers, exposed what it said was a broader malaise afflicting state voter systems around the country: an even greater level of dropout among people who tried to register online than others. The polling organization reported in October that only 35 percent of online voters had successfully completed the registration process.

And the organization also tested a state voter registration system during the 2014 midterms. The results: 36 percent of people took the time to complete the registration paperwork; 40 percent hadn’t done so. Only 20 percent had successfully completed their registration online, according to the Election Protection report.

In other words, a roughly two-thirds failure rate.

In the 2015 and 2016 elections, Virginia registered a comparatively low 1 percent of voters online, according to the Election Protection report.

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