Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Expanding Electronic Voter Registration in USA for 2016

The political system in the United States can be incredibly difficult to understand at the best of times, partly because of the way that the responsibilities are handled. Even though the federal election to decide the next President of the United States clearly has ramifications on a national level, the particulars of registering to vote and casting a ballot are not handled at the federal level. Each state has its own control over how voters cast their ballots and how those ballots are tabulated.

Although the United States of America is widely regarded as one of the most advanced countries in terms of the strength of its democracy, it is still curious to see that, when it comes to elections, it still lags behind many other nations that may otherwise be seen as less developed. In many states, voters must still register manually with a physical paper form. It's time the United States moved into the 21st century.

As a positive, several states have moved ahead with some form of electronic voter registration and this trend has continued to pick up momentum. The pace at which electronic and even online voter registration has been adopted in the different states has steadily quickened in recent years. In 2008, only Arizona and Washington State offered online voter registration, but that group grew to some 20 states by 2014.

Looking ahead to the general election next year, more states will be reportedly adding themselves to that list. This follows the recommendation put forth by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in January, which pushed for reducing wait times at polling places and the “continued expansion of online voter registration” for the nation's citizens.

A prime example of this is happening in the state of Ohio where a bill was introduced in February to set up an online voter registration system that could serve as a suitable replacement for the traditional paper forms. Introduced by Republican Senator Frank LaRose, Senate Bill 63 could help to “improve the accuracy of our voter records, reduce the potential for fraud and protect voter privacy, all while reducing costs to the taxpayer.”

In addition to improved accuracy and reduced costs, the introduction and implementation of an online voter registration system in Ohio could help to get more people registered to vote. In turn, this would bolster voter turnout and provide for a more representative government. Heading into 2016, a total of 27 states, plus the District of Columbia, have either implemented or passed legislation for online voter registration.

While the bill has not yet been signed into law in Ohio, it has received overwhelming support by the Ohio senate, which passed Senate Bill 63 by a vote of 31 to 1. The next step is for the bill to be debated and passed by the Ohio House of Representatives. The vote on the bill may not occur in the House until later this fall.

Contemplating even higher levels of security, the state of New Mexico is considering the introduction of biometric voter authentication as part of its voter registration and verification process. This simultaneously decreases the likelihood of fraud and increases access to the universal right to suffrage for individuals who may otherwise be challenged to produce reliable photo identification. More side-lined groups like the Hispanic and Latino community would benefit greatly from such a change.

That's still not all 50 states in the union, but significant progress continues to be made in an environment where change has not come easily.