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Colorado and Indiana Legislatures Pass Internet Voter Registration Bills

In the final week of their legislative sessions, the Colorado and Indiana legislatures gave final approval to bills allowing residents to register to vote online.  Colorado Senators passed HB 1160 and Indiana House Members passed HB 1346; both bills allow residents with driver's licenses or state-issued ID cards to register to vote online.  The legislation has been sent to the governor in both states.  In Colorado the governor is expected to sign the bill, while Indiana's governor has not indicated support or opposition.

Two states, Arizona and Washington, currently offer Internet voter registration.  Many thought that this option would only be appealing to young, Internet-savvy voters, but over 70% of voter registrations now come in online in Arizona and registration increased 10% the first year it was available (2007).  And while some have voiced concern that registering online will decrease election security, this system is perhaps more secure than paper-based registrations and there have been no instances of voter registration fraud with online registration to date.

Colorado:  Following a two-year lobbying effort by New Era Colorado, the state is on the cusp of providing internet registration to Colorado voters.  The bill had very strong bi-partisan support in the legislature, passing unanimously in the Senate and only garnering four "no" votes in the House.  It has now moved to the governor's desk for his expected signature.

Indiana
:  Indiana is more famous for putting up barriers to voting with its strict government-issued photo ID requirement that was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.  Yet, Sec. of State Todd Rokita has been a leading proponent of both voter ID and internet registration.  Unlike most proponents of voter ID, Sec. Rokita understands that states should use the new technology available to them to enhance access to the ballot box.  While most voting rights advocates strongly disagree with his position on voter ID, which he posits is essential for a secure election, we all can strongly agree with him that “[b]ecause of the technology we have, ... we can offer online registration and maintain, even enhance, the integrity of our elections.”  Specifically, the statewide voter registration databases that all states are now required to maintain can facilitate a host of improvements to voter registration and voter list maintenance.

How Internet Registration Works:  As our friends at New Era Colorado explain, internet registration is easy and secure.

The online form will allow current Colorado voters to update their registration record with address changes and mail-in ballot status by entering all of the same information that is currently required on a paper registration form. In the case of an address change, a postcard is sent to both the new and old address (like how the post office does when you change your address) in case there was a mistake or someone stole your identity.

The online form will allow first time registrants to register to vote online ONLY if they have a Colorado Driver's License or ID. For these first time registrants, the digitized signature from their Driver's License or ID will be used as the required signature on a voter registration form. This means that the person had to show up in person to a government office, provide a birth certificate, and show documentation to a government employee.

Behind the scenes, two things make Internet voter registration work -- statewide lists and electronic signatures.  Statewide, electronic lists allow residents anywhere in the state to register with the Sec. of State's Office.  It is no longer necessary for every registration to be transferred to the local election office physically.  Electronic signatures allow a registrant to prove their identity through a signature match where their signature on election day is matched with the signature in their driver's license or state ID file.

Other Registration Reforms That Technology Makes Possible:  Internet registration is only the beginning of what technology makes possible in modernizing our voter registration systems.  Other improvements include streamlining motor voter registration procedures as Delaware recently did, and implementing automatic voter registration as is currently being considered in Minnesota.  These systems, like internet registration, use statewide voter lists in conjunction with other state agency databases, in this case to allow the state to proactively register voters when they come in contact with a government agency.  As Sec. Rokita mentions, this process of comparing data across databases also has the effect of making our voting rolls more accurate and our elections more secure.

Resources
Colorado Internet Registration Bil - HB 1160
Indiana Internet Registration Bill - HB 1346
New Era Colorado - Online Voter Registration Factsheet
Brennan Center for Justice - Voter Registration Modernization