Vermont to Launch OVR Later This Month


[Image courtesy of all-flags-world]

Back in June, I wrote about how the State of Vermont had become the 14th state to enact Election Day registration … but in noting the change I wrote this:

This is obviously a big step for Vermont, but in reading the story I couldn’t help but remember that Vermont is one of the minority(!) of states yet to enact or implement online voter registration. Same-day registration is terrific for voters who decide to register and participate at the last minute, but it doesn’t necessarily reach people who have changed addresses, nor does it make voter registration part of other government transactions. Moreover, many of the concerns raised by [legislators] are addressed by OVR systems that use existing identification and citizenship sources to verify voters’ eligibility…I can’t help but feel that OVR has raised the bar nationwide for addressing voters’ and election officials’ needs. It will be interesting to see if Vermont takes that next step.

Apparently, Vermont – and specifically Secretary of State Jim Condos – felt the same way; his office has announced that later this month Green Mountain State voters will have access to online tools that include OVR. StateScoop has more:

With a presidential election a year away, Vermont officials are working to make casting a ballot easier for voters.

Starting Oct. 12, the Office of the Secretary of State will roll out a new online elections management system that will let Vermont residents register to vote electronically, request absentee ballots and track their personal voting information.

Secretary of State Jim Condos called the nearly two-year process of overhauling the state’s systems a response to his agency’s “antiquated” way of doing business.

“We think that this will help us increase participation not only from our local residents, but also from our military and overseas voters,” Condos told StateScoop. “It improves the accuracy, it certainly has a reduction in budgetary requirements and increases the speed in which [registrations] are done.”

Not only will the site give voters the ability to register online, it will also allow them to track the progress of their ballots and get notifications about upcoming elections:

Condos is particularly excited about the section of the site known as “My Voter Page.” Similar to systems in Georgia and Montana, the tool will let registered voters get a look at the location of their polling place, sample ballots for upcoming elections and the status of any absentee ballots they’ve mailed in.

“One of the biggest complaints is that people really don’t trust that their ballot is actually being counted,” Condos said. “This will really let them know that the ballot was actually received back into the town clerk’s office.”

The SoS is also looking forward to the operation benefits of an OVR system:

Condos sees the system drastically cutting down the amount of time staffers spend doing data entry, as they’ll no longer be forced to try to interpret ages and addresses from handwritten forms.

“If you could see some of the forms that my staff or the town clerks receive, you wonder how they get anybody’s name right,” Condos said. “Sometimes it’s very hard to read, they send the wrong age to us, sometimes the carbon copy doesn’t work as well as it should. In any case, no longer are clerks or our staff trying to read handwriting, it’s now being entered by the person.”

Condos estimates that the state registers roughly 20,000 voters each year.

The new site should also speed communication between Condos’ agency and other departments that register voters, like the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

“They have their own forms to fill out and send to us, so we’re hopeful that we’re going to kick them right into the online voter registration,” Condos said. “We won’t have the lag time waiting for those forms to show up here, in some cases it could be weeks before they get to our office.”

Finally, the state also anticipates significant benefits to Vermonters – both as taxpayers and voters:

While the savings for the government should be good news for taxpayers, Condos stressed that its biggest impact may be how it builds trust in Vermont’s electoral process.

“We think this is a really huge benefit to the integrity of our voting system,” Condos said.

There may still be some pushback on this idea – given that the Legislature hasn’t directly enacted laws to permit OVR – but for now it would appears that Vermont will join the growing list of states preparing to offer OVR and other online election services beginning with the 2016 election cycle. It’s a big move – and one likely to keep making news.

Stay tuned.

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