House Democratic Leader, David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville/Albemarle), today announced that a proposed change in state law to address emergencies that prevent citizens attempting to register from doing so in time of emergency. The proposed law would allow the State Board of Elections to extend the registration period for seven days in the event of an emergency.
“Recent events surrounding the hurricane in Florida and the problems with the Virginia online registration website suggest a need for some additional flexibility in extending the deadline for registration in advance of an election,” said Toscano. “Few people deny that citizens who seek to legally register and vote should be permitted to do so. Without a change in state law, the only option in cases of emergency is to file a lawsuit and seek court intervention. That is both inefficient and potentially denies the rights of citizens to exercise the franchise.”
In Florida, the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew made it impossible for some citizens to register within the time period set by state law. Since that state’s law did not permit the extension of the registration period, a lawsuit was filed, which led to the registration period being extended. Last week, hundreds of Virginians attempted to register in Virginia by the deadline, but were prevented from doing so because the registration website either slowed to a point that the registrations were not received by the deadline. A federal court judge, in response to a lawsuit, extended the time period for registration until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, October 21, 2016.
“I know that a number of my colleagues have attempted to blame the Board of Elections for the recent problems in Virginia,” said Mark Sickles (D-Franconia), who is working with Toscano on the legislation. “As leaders and legislators, however, we are in a position to address this problem, both by appropriating the funds to improve our system and by changing the law to make it more flexible. This proposal attempts to do the latter; in the next session, we will also work on the former.”
State law closes registration 21 days in advance of election with no exceptions.