As the 2016 election cycle approaches, you know there will be a renewal of the fierce partisan fights about all aspects of the voting process – but for now, there seems to be a steady drumbeat of states adding their names to the list of those offering online voter registration. Nebraska and Iowa are the next two, according to a new story from the Omaha World-Herald:
Nebraskans already use the Internet to pay bills, find driving directions and order replacement parts for their balky gas grills. In a few weeks, they will be able to register to vote online as well.
Secretary of State John Gale plans to kick off the new online voter registration system in time for National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22. The system, which is in the final stages of testing, marks a major technological advancement in Nebraska voter registration.
Gale expects it will increase voter registrations, cut costs, improve the accuracy of voter records and make government more convenient for citizens.
“We’re very, very excited to be part of a very significant nationwide change to improve voter registration and voter turnout,” he said.
Nebraska will become the 24th state to implement online voter registration. Until now, the only way to register has been by filling out a paper application.
Not to be outdone, Iowa – Nebraska’s neighbor to the east and rival in the annual Heroes Game (above) – will also be joining the list in the New Year:
Iowa plans to offer online voter registration starting Jan. 1, according to Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. He said the system is being developed in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Transportation.
“We feel good about this,” Hall said. “We think it will be positive for citizens of Iowa.”.
As it has in the other states, the move is drawing bipartisan praise:
State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln said he expects similar results when the Nebraska system gets underway. He has pushed for online registration since 2008 as founder and executive director of Nebraskans for Civic Reform, a nonpartisan group working to modernize Nebraska’s election process.
Legislation to make the change failed in 2010 and 2011 but passed in 2014. The successful bill was introduced by Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha.“I think it’s going to be a great tool for civic engagement,” Morfeld said. “We’re really excited that Nebraska’s entering the 21st century.”
Bri McLarty, voting rights director for Nebraskans for Civic Reform, said she expects the system will especially increase participation among young people and low-income Nebraskans. “This system will create a more modern and robust democracy,” she said.
And just like other states, Nebraska is coupling ease of use with safeguards designed to protect the rolls – which will then yield process improvements and cost savings:
The new system will link voter registration forms filled out online with the signatures on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles for driver’s licenses or state identification cards.
Gale said there are safeguards built into the online system to protect against fraud.
Local election officials will check each application against the DMV record, looking to make sure key information matches, such as legal name, date of birth and the last four digits of the Social Security number. As with paper applications, registrants must swear that their information is true, including citizenship status. If an application appears suspicious, Gale said, the system will have a record of the computer or mobile device from which it was sent.
Election officials will save on printing and mailing and on the time spent entering information from the paper forms into the state voter database.
In addition, Gale said, online applications will make voter rolls more accurate and complete. He said error rates are five times higher on paper applications than online because of illegible handwriting, blanks not filled out and mistakes transferring information into the database.
Moreover, Nebraska is also planning to use its new technology to improve motor voter compliance as well:
The next step in the system will be developing a way for people to register electronically at the same time that they get their driver’s license or state ID card.
Gale said he expects that piece of the system will be ready by February.
The Nebraska and Iowa announcements mean that half of the states and the District now either offer OVR or are in the process of implementing it. With all of the attention that other election developments have gotten and will get in 2016, it’s not hard to imagine that the spread of OVR could have a major effect of the voting experience in next year’s presidential race.