No More “Shuffling Papers”: Virginia To Add Electronic Voter Registration at DMV

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The old joke goes that the best thing about beating your head against a wall is that it feels so good to stop. The Commonwealth of Virginia is looking forward to a similar feeling after the announcement that it will offer electronic voter registration at DMV offices, eliminating hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper a year. The Roanoke Times has more:

Since 1996, when Virginia allowed voters to apply to register to vote at Department of Motor Vehicles offices, the department has processed 10 million applications.

“That’s the good news,” DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb said. “The bad news is that meant 10 million pieces of paper that we mailed to the Department of Elections that they then mailed to the local registrars.”

That paper trail will change this summer as the DMV rolls out electronic voter registration at its 74 locations across the state and five mobile customer service centers.

Holcomb and Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the new, streamlined process Thursday at the DMV’s Central Customer Service Center on West Broad Street in Richmond.

McAuliffe said an average DMV employee spends two to four hours a day “shuffling papers,” a task that will be much reduced now that voters can apply for new voter registrations and change existing information, such as their address, using the DMV’s credit card machines. They can also update voter registration information through the DMV website, dmvNOW.com.

“This makes government more efficient, it saves our taxpayers money and it makes democracy more accessible to everyone,” McAuliffe said…

“Roughly 50 percent of our paperwork is disappearing this summer,” said Matthew Davis, the Department of Elections’ chief information officer.

In it its place will be a system that gathers information electronically and sends it to the state’s local election officials – an effort that required some upgrades to the customer-facing equipment at the DMV:

The information will be sent electronically to the Department of Elections and from there it will be quickly accessible by the state’s 133 local voter registrars, who are still responsible for determining eligibility and issuing registrations…

DMV information technology staff spent nearly five months working on software that would allow the credit card machines at DMV offices to communicate with the Department of Elections. Now, DMV workers can determine quickly whether customers are already registered rather than submit what may be an unnecessary application.

“It makes the process much simpler for the customer in every way,” said Brandy Brubaker, a DMV spokeswoman.

Commissioner of Elections Edgardo Cortes said the majority of Virginians use the DMV to register to vote and change their registration address. Each year, DMV offices submit 500,000 voter registration applications to the Department of Elections.

“It worked great for 20 years but it really is time for a change, and it’s just common sense to make this more efficient and flexible,” he said.

The new system should also be a boon to voters and election officials by reducing questionable paper-based registrations:

The new process is expected to increase the accuracy of voter registration information, reduce the need for provisional ballots and cut administrative time for registrars who will have to send back fewer incomplete applications.

“I think it’s going to reduce greatly the denial of registrations, “ said Lisa Jeffers, the general registrar in Waynesboro and past president of the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia.

Virginia’s new system is an example of the kind of nuts-and-bolts upgrade that can be as powerful as any sweeping legislative change or court-ordered remedy. As the election system continues to evolve with the addition of new approaches and innovations, the willingness – and of course, the ability – of states and localities to seize these opportunities to bring their legacy technology and processes along to meet the new approach is going to be a vital skill.

Kudos to everyone in Virginia for this announcement, especially Commissioner Cortes and elections CIO Matthew Davis … while there is undoubtedly more to be done as the system comes online, it’s a great step forward for the Commonwealth – and a welcome respite from banging one’s head on all that paper.

Stay tuned …

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