[Image courtesy of mosers]
It’s National Voter Registration Month, and as always there’s lots of focus on bringing new voters onto the rolls. But advances in voter registration have also benefited existing voters – and created new tools for checking and updating their records. I started to write something about that when I realized I already had – five years ago today! Obviously, the field and the technology has evolved considerably but the basic point still stands. Check it out:
My electionline.org colleague Mindy Moretti has an info-packed story in this week’s electionlineWeekly on the push to get voters registered before deadlines start to hit in early October. Her story covers a variety of items, but the ones that jumped out at me were the online voter registration (OVR) numbers for states who have recently begun the practice.
These two grafs stood out in particular:
In Maryland, the [OVR] system launched in July and has seen more than 8,000 new registrants and more than 14,000 people have updated their registration.
Since its launch in August, 9,716 New Yorkers have used the [online] voter registration system to update their registration or complete an application. According to [the State Board’s Doug] Kellner, 3,168 are new registrants.
In other words, more than 60% of Marylanders and about two-thirds of New Yorkers using OVR have done so not to register for the first time but to update their records to reflect changes of address or other important information. That’s more than 20,000 voters in those two states combined who likely won’t need to cast a provisional ballot or endure other address-related delays on Election Day.
We don’t yet have similar data from other OVR states – now including California, which reports that over 19,000 voters used its OVR system in its first day online – but I’d be very surprised if the percentages weren’t similar. UPDATE: As noted in the comments below, Ohio has seen more than 25,000 address changes since its system went live in August. [Note to anyone (else) out there in an OVR state – send me your data and I’ll share it here.]
Often (maybe too often) the focus in election administration is on new voters; but these OVR figures suggest that there is significant benefit (not mention bang for the buck) in addressing the needs of existing voters as well. It will be interesting to see if we can identify measurable impacts from OVR in states that use it.
Regardless, I can’t help but think there will be tens (maybe hundreds?) of thousands of voters who are grateful to be able to check and update their voter records online in advance of Election Day. Bringing new voters into the process is a worthy goal, but serving the needs of existing voters (and introducing some efficiencies into election operations at the same time) is the real stuff of election administration.
As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, checking and (if necessary) updating your record needs to become second nature to voters – just like confirming your flight, hotel and restaurant reservations used to be. Fortunately, that’s easier than ever given the spread of OVR and related technology in the states. To be true, those systems do create vulnerabilities that the current focus on cybersecurity is helping to address, but it’s undeniable that for the vast majority of Americans, touching base with their voter record is just a few clicks away.
Happy Throwback Thursday – and stay tuned!