States Expand Voter Registration in 2015

The trend of allowing citizens to register to vote online has been quickly sweeping through state legislatures over the past two years. Online voter registration follows the same process as traditional paper-based registration, however the application is hosted on a website, not a physical paper copy, and is submitted electronically to election officials. The form is then validated by comparing the information on the online registration form against the information provided on an individual’s driver’s license or state identification card, according to NCSL. This method of registration boasts reduced costs, enhanced government efficiency, and voter lists that are more inclusive and accurately representative of the populous.

Arizona was the first state to implement online voter registration back in 2002. Washington came next with authorizing legislation enacted in 2007, and by 2012 13 states had adopted online systems. From 2013 to present, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Virginia made online voter registration available to constituents. This year the District of Columbia, Florida, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington all authorized online voter registration.

This method of registration has gained momentum largely in response to the controversial voter ID laws that were being implemented prior to the 2014-midterm elections. In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required that certain states and counties receive prior approval from the federal government before enacting any changes to voting laws, in Shelby County v. Holder. This landmark decision allowed many states to alter voting laws, inciting what many opponents called a new age of Jim Crow for their discriminatory tendencies. The 2014 midterms, the first major election year since the Supreme Court decision, was considered a “Red Wave” due to the Republican takeover of state legislatures. After the 2014-midterm elections states with strict identification requirements such as Georgia, Kansas, and Minnesota saw the GOP maintain or increase their stronghold despite the odds against them and frustrations from residents. New Hampshire, another state with strict identification requirements, saw legislative control in the House switch over to the Republicans.

Proponents of the 2014 voter ID laws cited voter fraud and fairer elections as a reason for their necessity, an issue that has been thoroughly addressed with the broader implementation of online voter registration. According to the PEW Charitable Trusts, all states employ effective safeguards meant to prevent cyberattacks, and to date, no state has reported a security breach. Tools such as Encryption, Captcha and other programs designed to circumvent automated hacking, routine audit logs, secure networks and unique identifiers help reduce the risk of fraud.

A huge advantage of online registration is the amount of money saved by hosting registration forms online. According to PEW most states spent less that $300,000 for their online systems, allowing states like California to save almost $2 million on voter registration when it implemented its system in 2012. The Pew Charitable Trusts also reported that states spend $249,000 on average to build and implement new online systems and are quickly recouping costs, because clerks do not have to process paper registrations.

Online registration is just the first step to enhance voter access nation wide. Some states are taking into consideration expanded options for citizens without a driver’s license or state ID. California, Delaware, Minnesota, Missouri and Virginia allow citizens without a state identification or driver’s license to register to vote online. Other operating procedures, benefits, and innovations like offering mobile friendly features for smartphones, and multilingual services and accessibility features for people with disabilities are emerging to improve the voting experience. Same day voter registration is another method gaining momentum. According to NCSL, currently 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, offer same-day registration. States such as Maine and Minnesota, who have allowed same day registration for over 40 years, have the highest voter turnout in the country. California, Hawaii and Vermont have also enacted same-day registration, but it is not fully implemented.

As the 2016 presidential election looms near, efforts amongst states to modernize voter registration is apparent. It is possible that the majority of states will offer online and/or same day voter registration by November as a means to address poor voter turnout in recent years.