Thursday, June 25, 2015

The burgeoning growth of online voter registration in the United States

Electronic voting technology can be implemented along nearly every step along the democratic process, empowering citizens to exercise their right to vote in the most convenient, most secure and most efficient manner possible. There are direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, for instance, that offer many profound benefits over traditional paper ballots. There are machines for recording, counting and tabulating the ballots to provide the results as quickly and as accurately as possible.

But even before a voter can make his mark on the ballot, digital or otherwise, he must first be properly identified, authenticated and registered to vote. In the United States, online voter registration is quickly rising in popularity across many of the states, making the democratic process more relevant and more approachable particularly for younger demographics. The growth has been pronounced and it has been rapid.

As recently as 2008, online voter registration was only available in Arizona and Washington State, providing this access to just 4 percent of all eligible voters across the country. Just six years later in 2014, these figures skyrocketed to the point where a total of 20 states were offering online voter registration to its residents, accounting for nearly half of all eligible voters in the United States. These include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon and more. It is also being used in the District of Columbia.

The growth is continuing in more states too as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nebraska and West Virginia are all already working on implementing online systems of their own for the purposes of voter registration. More recently, just last month, Florida Governor Rick Scott approved the use of online voter registration in the Sunshine State. The motion received “overwhelming bipartisan support.” Six other states have also approved similar legislation for the development of online voter registration systems. In Florida's case, the mandate calls for its implementation by October 2017.

In its review of online voter registration systems in the United States, the Pew Charitable Trusts found that online registration was more cost-effective than traditional paper registration, it provided for more accurate voter rolls, it was more secure, and it was more convenient for voters to register too. The United States Presidential Commission on Electoral Administration similarly supports the use of online voter registration. It's no wonder that it has strong support in many of the remaining states without such a system, like New Jersey. Other states, like South Dakota, have less enthusiastic.

The bigger push toward online voter registration in the United States is both mirrored and further demonstrated in other countries around the world as well. A prime example of this is the recent general election in the United Kingdom. The overwhelming majority of voters in this election chose to register via digital means rather than through paper forms. 

This was more clearly demonstrated on the biggest registration day, April 19, when nearly 470,000 people registered to vote electronically compared to just under 16,000 chose to do so with paper forms. All said, 7.1 million people in the United Kingdom used the online voter registration system since its original introduction last summer. Just 2.1 million people used postal registration over the same period of time.

Even as the popularity and deployment of electronic voting machines continue to expand throughout the world, it is important to recognize the need to update the entirety of the democratic process. The ongoing rise of online voter registration in the United States demonstrates promise and gives hope.