Online Voter Registration in California

As League fights Florida voter suppression efforts, California set to enfranchise thousands

Voting rights are being challenged and suppressed across our country and the right for citizens to vote freely is under assault. From Pennsylvania to Texas, Florida to Indiana, eligible voters are being stricken from the voter rolls and barriers are being thrown up, keeping Americans out of the voting booth.

As a core mission, the League of Women Voters has and will continue to be vigilant in our support of voting rights for all eligible citizens. That’s why in Florida, LWV State Director Elizabeth Pines has been successfully fighting Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s irresponsible and dangerous efforts to prevent thousands of eligible voters from participating in the democratic process.

As the country gets ready to vote this November and the effort to suppress the vote continues across the country, we must ask: Where does California stand and how do we enfranchise as many eligible voters as possible?

California jumps into 21st century

Fortunately, California has finally gotten behind the successful trend of online voter registration that leverages technology in a cost-saving and secure manner. In 2011, State Senator Leland Yee authored SB 397, which allowed California to move forward with implementing online voter registration, saying “In the 21st century, especially here in California, it is long overdue to have online voter registration. SB 397 will not only help protect the integrity of the vote, but will allow many more individuals the opportunity to register and participate in our democracy.” SB 397 was subsequently passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.

With eleven states already implementing online voter registration, statistics show that allowing eligible citizens to register using secure online voting registration increases the participation of traditionally marginalized and disenfranchised communities in the democratic process – including eligible lower-income individuals, youth and communities of color.

Online registration has also been shown to increase the security of the vote, adding safeguards to the democratic process not previously available. For example, voter registration forms are often handwritten and must be keyed in by county workers, leaving room for clerical human errors and increasing administrative costs. With online voter registration in place, eligible voters will input their own information and systems will be in place to electronically cross-reference the information, including signatures, again reducing costs and increasing security.

Online voter registration is a cost-saving measure that California needs more than ever. When Arizona implemented online voter registration, Mariposa County, the largest in Arizona, saved over $1 million due to reduced staff costs. That’s in part why counties around the state support the move to allow secure online voting registration. As San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Mark Church points out, online voter registration will “increase the accuracy of the registration information and reduce election costs….everyone wins.”

The League of Women Voters of California agrees. While other states invent tales of voter fraud in order to justify forcing people off voter rolls and make voting more cumbersome, California has come up with a real means of verifying votes while increasing participation and saving taxpayer dollars. Unlike the regressive voter suppression measures in Florida that look like something from a bygone and damaging era, states like California can and should be doing everything they can to increase representation by removing barriers to the vote, not creating them. This innovative approach assures that we will have a 21st Century democracy rather than a 19th Century one.

What next?

With the law now in place, the California Secretary of State is responsible for implementing online voter registration by working with the state’s 58 counties to synchronize systems that will allow counties to communicate efficiently and securely with the DMV to verify signatures and register eligible voters.

While timing is still unclear, supporters of online voter registration hope it will be ready for the upcoming November 2012 elections but recognize the imperative to roll online voting registration out effectively and responsibly.

In the meantime, it is imperative that all of us work to promote voter representation through education and advocacy. And soon, it will be as easy as an email, facebook post or tweet to bring the power of the vote directly to your friends, family, colleagues and neighbors.

The League will continue to monitor online voter registration and other policies that will enfranchise eligible voters, further secure the vote, decrease public costs and increase representation and democratic participation, ensuring that our government shall continue to be of, by, and for the people.

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