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Statement of Delegate Mark Sickles on Extension of Voter Registration Deadline

ALEXANDRIA, VA  – Federal District Judge Claude M. Hilton today extended Virginia’s voter registration deadline until 11:59 p.m., tomorrow, Friday, October 21, 2016. 

On the previous October 17, 2016, deadline, the Department of Elections online registration system crashed due to historic and unprecedented activity.  According to one county registrar, thousands of citizens were denied access to the November  8 election. 

“The system’s capability will not be (cannot be) enhanced by tomorrow’s deadline.  Therefore, for people wishing to register, please consider downloading the form, printing and mailing it back to the Department of Elections, postmarked by October 21,” said Delegate Mark Sickles, Ranking Democrat on the House Privileges and Elections Committee (P&E).  “We have underfunded the Department of Elections for years, and while online access to services is now considered unremarkable and is commonplace in everyday life, the Commonwealth is tied to information management systems of another era and generation.”

At the Joint P&E meeting last week, weakness in the VERIS system was explained to members, including the fact that there are no easy, quick fixes, available over the next few days. 

“Registrars asked for the registration portal to be cut off on October 18, something that was impossible to do at the DMV and which, in retrospect, would have made the problem worse,” Sickles said.  “Registrars also asked the Department to buy an additional server, a request that was also not technologically feasible at this point, and out of the Department’s control even if it were.”

“There appears to be a very strong interest in this presidential election.  As for last week’s system overload, there is plenty of blame to go around, including for those of us serving in the General Assembly,” he remarked.  The McAuliffe Administration unsuccessfully tried to beef up the Department in the two year budget that was enacted in March.

Although the plaintiffs and the Commonwealth had agreed to extend to October 24, 2016, Judge Hilton did not believe that much time is needed to accommodate those citizens who were denied the right to vote before the previous deadline.  He did, however, keep the case open in order to revisit the new deadline if another systems meltdown occurs.

 “Although I wish Judge Hilton had approved the original agreement reached by the plaintiffs, I applaud the Court’s decision to extend the registration deadline.  Ensuring access to the ballot box is fundamental to a working democracy.  To avoid these complications in the future, I will be working with the Majority to introduce bipartisan legislation that gives the Electoral Board the power to move the deadline by unanimous vote in the case of an emergency or a similar systems malfunction,” said Delegate Sickles.  “We also need to beef up the Department of Elections who operate now with just 32 people.  Seventy percent of its $10 million budget is covered by federal money that will be expiring at the end of fiscal year '17.”

For more information on how to register to vote, please visit http://www.elections.virginia.gov/registration/how-to-register/.