Online Voter Sign-Up Gains Favor; Some GOP States Have It; Democrats Want It for All

Article excerpt

Byline: Sean Lengell, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

If Capitol Hill Democrats have their way, every American soon will have the option to grab their laptop, plop down on the couch and register to vote. Yet unlike other hot-button voting rights issues, such as early voting and same-day registration, the idea is gaining momentum among some state-level Republicans.

Online voter registration is a central provision of a voting rights bill jointly filed last week by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, both Democrats. The measure, called the Voter Empowerment Act, collectively so far has 168 cosponsors in both chambers - all Democrats.

But at the state level, the issue is largely nonpartisan, as half of all states with online voter-registration programs already in place have Republican-led state legislatures. And of the eight state legislatures with bills this year proposing the idea, five are GOP-controlled, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Everyone loves it, said Arizona Secretary of State spokesman Matt Roberts, whose state was the first to implement online voter registration in 2002 and has been the model for other states since. Obviously, Arizona is pretty conservative, but the one area that seems to have pretty universal support is that voter registration online is a good thing.

The benefits basically are twofold: convenience for voters and big cost savings for local governments.

Local elections offices typically hire temporary workers, particularly in big election years, to manually enter voter-registration information from paper forms into computer databases. But online registration mean less paperwork, fewer workers and lower costs.

The [local elections] clerks have found a lot of value in it, said Colorado Secretary of State spokesman Richard Coolidge, whose state began voter online registration in 2010. They're getting higher data quality for less money.

Registrants first must have a driver's license or state-issued identification card, as their demographic information - including their digitized signature - is taken from their motor-vehicle record.

Reported cases of hackers breaking into electronic voter-registration rolls have been rare, as the systems include numerous safeguards, state officials say. …