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Replacing Virginia's ‘unreliable’ election system could cost more than $20 million

Tuesday’s system failure cast VERIS weaknesses into sharp relief, highlighting concerns the aging network may not be able to handle a deluge of voters.

RICHMOND, Va. — A day after a severed cable paralyzed Virginia’s voter registration system and spurred a federal judge to extend the commonwealth’s voter registration deadline, documents reviewed by WUSA9 show an estimated price tag between $20 million - $29 million is now under consideration to replace the aging system.

The essential election computer network, known as the Virginia Election and Registration Information System (VERIS), runs the state’s voter registration system, and will not be replaced until July 2022.

Virginia election officials blamed Tuesday’s outage on roadside utility digging in Chesterfield County, a mistake that shuttered VERIS for more than five and a half hours.

RELATED: How did a cut wire crash Virginia's voter registration system? Here's a breakdown

The work accidentally cut a Verizon fiber cable linking VERIS to the rest of the commonwealth, officials said, causing registrars to use back-up paper forms on what was supposed to be the final day of voter registration.

A federal judge extended Virginia’s registration deadline on the state’s election website to 11:59 p.m. Thursday. In-person registration is also extended until 5 p.m. Thursday at local elections offices, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Gibney Jr. ruled.

The new system failure cast VERIS weaknesses and reliability issues into sharp relief, highlighting lingering fears that the network may not be able to handle a deluge of voters leading up to Nov. 3.

A September WUSA9 investigation revealed Northern Virginia registrars are concerned VERIS may slow or crash due to high-demand, two years after Virginia auditors labeled the system, “not sufficiently functional or reliable.”

The load is the issue, as far as I can see,” Brenda F. Cabrera, general registrar of Fairfax City, said. “And the more we are using it, the more it fails. The closer we get to the election, the more we're using it, and therefore, it tends to fail during those more critical time periods.”

RELATED: Virginia judge extends voter registration for 48 hours following system outage

Documents reviewed Wednesday reveal four technology vendors recently solicited ideas and price estimates to replace VERIS. The documents from the Virginia Department of Elections described the state as in need of “a modern, robust system” for voter registration, and said VERIS, operating since 2007, is “nearing the end of its life cycle.”

“The non-binding estimated cost range for the initial 2-year contract is between $20,000,000 and $29,000,000 (rounded to a whole number) for the replacement of VERIS,” the Department of Elections wrote. “No contract award was generated from [the request for information.]”

A new request for proposal will be drafted in the coming months to select a bidder to overhaul the system. None of the vendors who submitted price estimates were revealed by name.

The department compared the estimate against costs incurred by six other states with recently revamped election systems. The most comparable state in terms of population, Georgia, spent $107 million on its election system overhaul.

RELATED: VERIFY: Here's why Virginia Governor Northam couldn't have used an executive order to extend voter registration

Washington state paid $16 million, while South Carolina spent $51 million on similar election upgrades, the documents showed.

The new details also revealed VERIS will run alongside a new voter registration and election management system for two to three elections, in order to repair unforeseen problems before Virginia relies on a new election backbone.

Additional money for the project will come from the federal government, specifically, a $10.2 million grant from the Help America Vote Act.

In a September interview, Virginia Elections Commissioner Christopher E. Piper expressed confidence in VERIS as it currently operates, and said no votes would be affected by technical issues.

“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,” Piper said. “The important thing is, is that we currently have VERIS, we feel good about it, and we're going to continue operating with it.”

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