Jul 26, 2014

Opinion: Online Voter Registration: Accuracy, Efficiency, Fairness

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Opinion: Online Voter Registration: Accuracy, Efficiency, Fairness

The following was provided by State Senator Katherine Clark:

This session I have introduced legislation to bring online voter registration to the Commonwealth.  This bill would allow citizens to complete an affidavit of registration online to register to vote or update their voter information.  At present, registration forms are available at City or Town Clerk’s Offices, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, or other registration site, and online (as a PDF) per the Secretary of the Commonwealth.  The online forms must be filled out, printed, signed and mailed to a local election official.

Under an online system, every citizen with a Massachusetts ID Card or Driver’s License, who is eligible to vote, could register online.  The online affidavit will use the citizen’s signature from the records of the Registry of Motor Vehicles.  If a citizen does not have a Massachusetts ID or Driver’s License, that individual would be required to print out and mail the form after signing it.  This bill would not alter any registration deadline or qualification of voting. Nor would it prohibit in-person registration. 

Also included in the bill is a provision to expand the voter registration “look-up” tool, currently available to some Massachusetts residents, including in the City of Boston.  This would help voters to verify their address, voting status (active/inactive), party affiliation and polling location. 

Other states have successfully implemented online voter registration systems over the past decade, starting with Arizona in 2002.  Since then, 12 other states – including California, Oregon, South Carolina, and Maryland – have done the same, and three more have passed legislation that they are in the process of implementing. These states have realized the many benefits of an online system, including cost savings and more accurate and timely voter information. 

In 2010, the Pew Center on the States commissioned researchers to evaluate the implementation and usage of online voter registration in Arizona and Washington, two early adopters. The studies found that online voter registration: saves money compared to traditional paper processes, could increase the accuracy of voter lists, streamlines the registration process for election officials, and has popular public support. For example, the researchers found that in Arizona’s most populous county, Maricopa County, it costs an average of three cents to process an online application compared to an average of 83 cents per paper application. 

Online registration also may encourage voter participation, particularly among young people.  A recent study from the University of California Davis found that after online voter registration became available in California, approximately half of all voter registrations came via this method, with voters ages 18-24 taking greatest advantage of the online system. There are now two million young registrants in California, an increase of about 14 percent since 2008.

Online voting registration makes good sense – from a fiscal perspective as well as a good government one.  But most importantly, it will effectively and securely facilitate the process of voting in the Commonwealth. 


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