Members of the public attempting to register to vote in the EU referendum complained that the government website had crashed hours before the deadline.
The development could mean that tens of thousands of potential voters may be disenfranchised and unable to cast a vote in what is expected to be closely fought contest.
Voters have been encouraged to register before 11.59pm on Tuesday 7 June to be able to take part in the EU referendum. However, the Cabinet Office website would not allow voters to input their details at 10.40pm on Tuesday.
A tweet from the Cabinet Office acknowledged that the site had crashed. “We’re aware of the technical issue on [the site]. We’re working to resolve it. This is due to unprecedented demand. Update soon,” it said.
The online registration system was supposed to make it easier than ever for people living in England, Wales and Scotland to register. But on Twitter, users complained that the website crashed after the prime minister, David Cameron, and Ukip leader Nigel Farage took part in an EU referendum programme.
Allison Pearson, the Telegraph columnist, wrote on Twitter that her husband had attempted to register at 10.45pm but had been unable to do so. “Himself trying to register to vote. ‘Sorry, we are having technical problems’ 504 Gateway 504. Time-out impedes democracy.”
Twelve minutes before the deadline, the Cabinet Office tweeted an apology. “Some people are getting through, sorry if you have experienced issues,” it said.
The Guardian was alerted to the problem by a Liberal Democrat official who could not register.
The Lib Dem Leader, Tim Farron, called for the deadline for registration to be extended. “This is a shambles the government has presided over and people must be given an extra day to exercise their democratic right,” he said. “It is also a major blow to the in campaign and our prospects of staying in Europe.
“With individual voter registration, and a big campaign to encourage young people to register, many of whom have been trying to do so last-minute, this could have major consequences for the result.
“Evidence shows younger people are overwhelmingly pro-European, and if they are disenfranchised it could cost us our place in Europe. It could also turn them off democracy for life. Voters must be given an extra day while this mess is sorted out urgently.”
Gloria De Piero, the shadow cabinet office minister, wrote that the Cabinet Office site showed that there were 26,629 people attempting to register six minutes before the midnight deadline. “Government MUST extend the deadline for 24 hours,” she wrote on Twitter.
Ian Katz, the editor of Newsnight, wrote: “Seems traffic to voter registration site peaked at 22.15 when 50,000 were trying to register – and site subsequently crashed.”
Jeremy Cornbyn, too, added his voice to the calls for an extension to the deadline.
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