The Long and Winding Road: OVR Finally Comes to Florida

[Screenshot image via RegisterToVoteFlorida]

Longtime readers of this blog know that one of the longest-running sagas in the field since I started back in 2011 has been the fight to establish online voter registration in Florida. This weekend, it finally happened … and NorthEscambia.com has the story:

Sunday, Florida [joined] 35 other states and the District of Columbia in offering online voter registration (OVR) to its citizens. The October 1st launch by the Florida Division of Elections [allows] eligible residents who possess a current Florida Driver’s License or Florida Identification Card to submit a voter registration application completely online.

RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov is the dedicated website for new applicants and current voters who wish to update their voter registration. A Florida Driver’s License or Florida Identification Card (ID) along with the last four digits of the user’s social security number are necessary to complete the online process. All other users may use the online application to input their information, but then must print and sign the application, and deliver it to the Supervisor of Elections office.

Security measures to protect the personal information of the applicants, and to verify the identity of the applicant and accuracy of their information, have been put in place.  Supervisors of Elections will continue to review every application, whether submitted electronically or on paper.

Enactment and implementation was slowed by the opposition of the Secretary of State, but it appears his security concerns have been taken into account in advance of the rollout:

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner who originally opposed the policy, said the Department of State has been working over the last two years, in cooperation with the 67 supervisors of elections across the state, to “implement an online voter registration website that provides Floridians with a secure and more easily accessible way to register to vote.”

“The right to vote is sacred in our country and I hope that with this new and convenient method, more Floridians will register to vote and engage in the electoral process,” Detzner said in a statement.

State elections officials said “multiple safeguards” are being used to verify the registrations and to protect personal information, including the use of a “state-of-the-art” firewall, data encryption, captcha boxes, which are designed to thwart bots, and session time-outs after inactivity.

It is Florida, though, and that means there is still some controversy:

Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said her organization welcomes the advent of the online registration system but has raised several issues about its implementation.

Goodman said the new system will not follow the law if it requires would-be voters to have either a Florida driver’s license or state identification card as well as the last four digits of their Social Security numbers. Under the current paper registration system, Goodman said voters only have to produce a Social Security number if they lack both a driver’s license and a state ID card.

She said the online law specifically states that online registration requirements can be no different than the current procedures.

Goodman said Thursday that the issue was raised with Detzner but the League of Women Voters has not received a response from the state agency.

“Let’s see what comes out on Oct. 1,” she said. “We remain optimistically hopeful.”

Goodman said a lawsuit would be “our last option,” saying her organization would prefer to work out the issue with Detzner.

Goodman’s group also wants clarity on how third-party voter registration groups, like the league, will be able to use the online system. She also said she would like to see the state and local supervisors of elections promote the availability of online registration.

I know local officials are excited about the rollout – especially since it was their lobbying that pushed OVR over the top – but many of them will be taking a “go slow” approach in the early days:

In Polk County, Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards said she will take a cautious approach to using the new system.

“I’m hoping for a bit of a slow start so that we can get accustomed to the processes and procedures,” Edwards said. “And if we do detect any burps or hiccups we can fix them with a smaller quantity.”

She added: “Once it’s polished up and perfect, I will promote it. But it’s my nature to go slow.”

That said, this news is exciting at any speed; adding Florida to the list of OVR states is a huge step forward for the state and for the field. Kudos to everyone – especially the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections (FSASE) and their former legislative chair Brian Corley of Pasco County – for making this happen.

As always, it will be interesting to see how the rollout shakes out … so stay tuned!

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