“Accidentally” appeared as a trending topic on Twitter on October 13 2020, not long after Washington, DC-area news station @WUSA9 tweeted that the state’s entire voter registration system went offline — on the last day to register before the 2020 election:
Alongside a link to an article, the news organization wrote:
#BREAKING; An accidentally cut cable has caused the entire Virginia voter registration online system to go down on the last day to register to vote before election day.
Here’s what we know so far ⬇️
The lead-up to Election Day 2020 was marred with myriad news stories about attempted or actual voter suppression, many of which involved “slowdowns” with the United States Postal Service. News reports that the cable was “accidentally” disrupted led to widespread speculation deeming the timing of the incident suspicious, at best:
At 9:48 AM local time, the Virginia Department of Elections tweeted about the cut cable and ensuing connectivity issues:
WUSA9’s reporting appeared to largely reference the Virginia Board of Elections tweet above. Approximately fifteen minutes before that tweet, reporter Mike Valerio tweeted about the outage, adding that officials had “feared” that such a scenario would come to pass:
Valerio linked to his own September 29 2020 reporting about the reliability of Virginia’s voting systems:
Virginia Elections Commissioner Christopher E. Piper vigorously defended the integrity of the system, and said Virginians should sleep soundly concerning the integrity of the network. In a wide-ranging interview, Piper staked his reputation on VERIS shepherding the commonwealth through the November 3  election, without failure.
“We’ve done a lot of work on VERIS, and we’ve added features and functions to ensure that when VERIS is being used by the citizens and the registrars, that it is in optimal performance … The important thing is, is that we currently have VERIS, we feel good about it, and we’re going to continue operating with it.”
The commissioner’s sentiment isn’t shared by all who are involved with Virginia’s elections.
In 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.
Valerio explained in his story that VERIS handles voter registration — and it has been plagued with issues from its inception:
The system adds, updates and cancels voter registration, verifies eligibility to vote, and generates lists of people who can cast ballots across the commonwealth.
VERIS also plays an essential role with mail-in ballots, as the system approves or denies absentee voting applications.
But perhaps VERIS’s most high-profile function is reporting results on election night. VERIS records every vote cast in Virginia, and displays the results on the state’s election website.
It was a system originally built for Indiana. Virginia requested a modified design and began using what would then become VERIS in 2007.
After significant failures with servers crashing in 2014 and 2016, temporarily shutting down Virginia’s election website and voter registration, respectively, state auditors launched an investigation.
Prepared for the state General Assembly in September 2018, the report concluded VERIS “is not sufficiently functional or reliable,” and strongly suggested the legislature examine replacing the network.
WRC-TV also covered the outage on October 13 2020, reporting that voters called for a deadline extension:
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said that outages are reported statewide and called for the voter registration deadline to be extended beyond Tuesday [October 13 2020]. However, the Board of Elections hasn’t announced plans to adjust the deadline. A spokesperson didn’t immediately reply to an inquiry about whether the deadline would be extended.
WKBW provided resources for unregistered voters to register by mail here.
Under a “Virginia Department of Elections” logo, text read:
THANK YOU FOR COMING TO THE DEPARTMENT OF ELECTIONS’ CITIZEN PORTAL WEBSITE.
Due to a network outage the Citizen Portal is temporarily unavailable. We are working with our network providers to restore service as quickly as possible.
Please check back later for your online voter registration or absentee needs.
If you would like to apply for voter registration now, you may fill out and print the paper application here. [link]
If you would like to apply to vote by mail now, you may fill out and print the paper application here. [link]
As of 2:30 PM local time, Virginia’s Department of Elections issued no further guidance beyond a tweet about the cable indicating that technicians were “on site and working to repair; updates will be provided as work progresses.” No information about the circumstances under which the cable was cut had been disclosed, nor was any information provided indicating whether voting times would be extended.