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Much of what we do these days is on the Internet. We channel much of our communication online, using channels like social media, instant messengers and e-mail. We manage our finances with various online tools and we take care of our money with online banking. Depending on the jurisdiction where you live, you might also be able to file your income tax through a web portal. Why is it, then, that some governments still insist that voters have to register in person when an online voter registration system would be far more efficient and potentially far more effective in improving overall voter turnout?
In January of this year, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in the United States of America put together a report called The American Voting Experience where it outlined some of its key findings for the electoral process in the country. It also provided a number of key recommendations that could improve how Americans vote in future elections, like reducing wait times at polling places.
The Commission calls to improve the accuracy of registration rolls to expand access, prevent fraud and reduce administrative costs. One of the key recommendations offered by the Commission to achieve these goals is through the modernization of the registration process, particularly when it comes to the “continued expansion of online voter registration.”
A number of online registration tools are already provided through the website of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and these are being recommended to the states to adopt for their own online registration. Voters can then go through the process from the convenience of their homes, going through the secure web portal to register for upcoming elections. This saves a lot of time for administration, as all of the necessary fields can already populate the database without the need for a data entry clerk. This has been a problem for many states, as the traditional record keeping system still utilizes “outdated paper-based registration systems requiring data entry by government employees.”
The central database of voters can then be more easily shared between other state agencies and potentially outside groups. When a voter moves to a different residence, he can update the address himself through the online portal to keep everything up to date. This has otherwise been a problem for the paper-based system, which has led to much incorrect information in the records.
Improved voter registration is the first step toward improving overall voter turnout, which is absolutely crucial to the democratic process. Online voter registration can increase overall numbers, as evidenced in Arizona where registration rates “increased from 29 percent to 53 percent among voters aged 18 to 24 with the adoption of an online system.” Voters with disabilities have improved access too, particularly those with limited mobility.
What's more, the lineups on Election Day can be shortened, as voters would have already registered online ahead of time and clerks will have easier access to the database. Security is also improved, as “clean” rolls minimize the vulnerability to fraud. Online voter registration offers a plethora of advantages and jurisdictions across the country and around the world should give it some serious consideration.