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Unanimous support for online voter registration

Posted: April 20, 2012 10:40 a.m.
Updated: April 23, 2012 5:00 a.m.

According to a February 2012 report, “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient: Evidence that America’s Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade,” from the Pew Center on the States, indicates that one in eight registrations is inaccurate or out-of-date in some way. Nationwide, Pew reports that nearly 2 million deceased individuals are listed as voters, and approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.

About one-third of Americans who register to vote each year submit their forms at a motor vehicle office. The DMV then turns the registration forms over to the state’s election commission. For those who don’t register at the DMV, registration forms are available and are completed by the voter and submitted to the appropriate local office, where registrars review them and enter the data on the state’s master list.

Unfortunately, this paper system is fraught with opportunity for clerical errors because of sloppy handwriting or miss-keyed information. Each registration form requires manual data entry, which is labor intensive. Furthermore, many people depend on the mail or third parties to deliver their paper registration form to the local voter registration office, but there is no guarantee that it will get there or get there by the registration deadline.

It is time that the states use the technology tools that are available to them to keep up with a more mobile and tech savvy population, improve voter registration systems’ reliability, and cut costs at the same time.

Last week, with bi-partisan support, the S.C. House passed H. 4945, a bill that I sponsored to ensure that South Carolina voter registration data is clean and correct when it is first entered, and that the rolls will be kept accurate over time. It provides for online voter registration, which is a direct submission of information that the voter confirms, reducing opportunities for human and data entry errors or lost paper forms.

H. 4945 will allow a South Carolina citizen who is qualified to register to vote and who has a valid S.C. driver’s license or state DMV-issued ID card to register to vote online. Just like paper registrations, the application must be received 30 days before an election in order to qualify to vote in that election. Because everyone does not have access to the Internet, the traditional paper registration forms will still be available. Online voter registration will simply be a new option.

Online voter registration is without a doubt a convenience for voters, but it also has the benefit of dramatically reducing the cost of handling and improving the accuracy of the registrations. In Arizona, the per-registration cost dropped from 83 cents per paper registration to 3 cents per online registration. Over time, both county and state offices can save both money and staff time with online registration.

States also need to keep their voter records accurate into the future. Because voters move, stop voting, and die, the lists are hard to keep up-to-date. The best way to screen the voter rolls for inaccuracies is to use data matching. Under H. 4945, the elections commission can compare its list with those of the state’s driver’s license records, death records, and others. If a voter is found to have two different address listings, the voter registration office can get in touch with that voter to sort out which one is correct. What if a voter dies out-of-state or moves out-of-state? In-state records won’t help. H. 4945 allows our state to compare our voter lists across state lines. Using more data sources and using proven, secure matching techniques will allow our state to increase our data accuracy and eliminate potential voter fraud.

In practice, online voter registration also offers greater security and privacy than paper forms because the voter personally enters his or her information into the system. That information is checked electronically against existing data, and it is accepted or rejected on the spot. There is also no opportunity for others to copy an individual’s personal information (like a Social Security number) for other purposes.

Eleven states have enacted legislation that provides for online voter registration. Arizona was the first, and has had online voter registration since 2002. If this bill becomes law, South Carolina would be the first state in the Southeast to modernize our voter registration system.

I hope that the Senate will seize this opportunity to bring South Carolina’s voter registration system into the 21st century, making use of the latest technology to help our voter rolls become more accurate, cost-effective, and efficient. An online system would provide a convenient and secure way for voters to ensure their registration has the right information while saving taxpayer dollars. By partnering with other states to share information, we can keep records up-to-date as people move, thereby ensuring the integrity of our voter lists.

In an election year, it seems any change related to election laws becomes a hot partisan issue. But not this time. H. 4945 enjoys a bi-partisan list of co-sponsors, and received unanimous support at every step in the House legislative process, culminating with a 94-0 vote on the S.C. House floor. I urge the Senate to follow suit with speedy and unanimous support of H 4945 to allow for online voter registration in South Carolina.

(S.C. Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk is a contributing columnist for the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)

 

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