Voter registration coincidences emphasize the importance of voting
Stephon Johnson | 10/22/2020, midnight
Two states’ registration websites shutting down on the last day of registration. Long lines for early voting. The weeks leading up to Election Day have seen a swarm of news and fights for access to the ballot box.
This week, a fiber optic cable on Route 10 in Virginia’s Chesterfield County was accidentally severed, shutting down the majority of the state’s online voter registration on its last day. The shutdown affected Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince Williams Counties’ abilities to register voters online.
The drama played out on Twitter where the Virginia Department of Elections’ page revealed that they received news from the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) on the matter.
“This morning we were alerted by VITA that a fiber cut near the Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center was impacting data circuits and VPN connectivity for multiple agencies. This has affected the citizen portal along w/ registrar’s offices. Technicians are on site and working to repair; updates will be provided as work progresses.”
As a result of the issue, on Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he wanted the courts to approve an extension because he doesn’t have the power to do so. That eventually falls on Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.
But the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union doesn’t want to wait for Herring. They want an immediate extension.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Advancement Project filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Elections and Virginia State Board of Elections and Commissioners demanding a 48-hour extension of the voting registration deadline. In a press release, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke said the shutdown falls on the state so the state must address the problem.
“The commonwealth failed the public and it must grant a significant extension to ensure all Virginians are given an equal opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” said Clarke. “Extending the registration deadline is a common-sense step that can be taken to address the potential disenfranchisement of thousands of eligible people across Virginia.”
While the majority of polls and prediction websites (from FiveThirtyEight to Real Clear Politics) have Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden winning Virginia, other so-called “battleground states” have similar problems.
Florida wasn’t immune to similar issues. Last week, Florida’s voter registration system crashed on the last day to file. According to the officials from Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee’s office, the portal went down for a short period of time, but continued to have problems throughout the day.
Before the deadline was extended one extra day, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Executive Director Desmond Meade wrote a letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lee stating that an extension was necessary to ensure all voices were heard.
“The problems with the voter registration system are well known, and something that deserves attention,” said Meade. “More important than that, however, are the people impacted by the outages. The men and women across this state who went to work and came home with the intent to register as voters in our state were denied because a website was not working properly. We can do better. Our democracy is sacred and we need to do everything possible to ensure that people’s voices are being heard.”
While voters in Cobb County, Ga. stood for six hours or more, New York City is making sure all votes are counted and all polling stations are ready to go.
The New York City Board of Elections designated early voting areas in each borough. Beginning Oct. 24 and ending Nov. 1, dozens of spots in each borough will be opened for early voting, including PS 175 Henry H. Garnet in Harlem, the Bronx County Supreme Courthouse, Resorts World Casino New York City in Queens and Brooklyn College in Flatbush.
Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced that 700 of the city’s 1,100 polls on Election Day will be schools. The rest of the bunch include Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center. Despite the early voting and the opening of these new polling sites, there have been some mishaps with absentee voting in Brooklyn.
In late September, due to an error by the print vendor, Phoenix Graphics, 100,000 voters in Brooklyn received wrong ballot return envelopes for their absentee ballots. New York City Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan reassured Brooklyn voters that everything would be taken care of.
“We will ensure on behalf of the voters in Brooklyn that the proper ballots and ballot envelopes are in the hands of the voters far enough in advance of Election Day so they can vote,” stated Ryan.
In a joint statement, the NYC Campaign Finance Board and the mayor’s DemocracyNYC Initiative wanted voters to know that there would be no more hiccups going forward.
“Voters are understandably frustrated by errors with absentee ballot envelopes in Brooklyn. But we cannot let this mistake prevent us from participating in the election this fall,” read part of the statement. “However New Yorkers choose to vote—by mail, early, or in-person on Election Day—your vote will count and be counted.”
Despite all of this, City Hall continues to make voting easy, but there’s polling sites that need to be taken care of. Unions such as AFSCME are doing their part to help meet those needs.
During a tele-town hall last week, AFSCME president Lee Saunders addressed members in the middle of the union’s mobilization efforts to recruit and educate potential poll workers. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there aren’t as many poll workers as usual for the election.
“Who better to perform this important public service than people who have made a career out of public service?” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders during the tele-town hall. “We’re doing everything possible to encourage people to make a plan to vote. Vote early, vote by mail, vote in person; you have options—especially given the pandemic. But to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch, we will still need to be well-staffed at the polls on Election Day, as well as at in-person early voting sites.”
You can find early voting information at https://www.vote.nyc/page/early-voting-information and poll worker info at https://nyc.electiondayworker.com/. Requests for absentee ballots must be received by Oct. 27 and postmarked by Nov. 3.