Making Democracy Work in the 21st Century
By Susan Carty, Board President, League of Women Voters Pennsylvania
Remember the last time you registered to vote? It probably involved a trip to the post office to get a form, completing that form, mailing the form in and then receiving confirmation from the Secretary of State’s office it had been processed. From start to finish, this probably took a few days if not a few weeks. It’s the same way we’ve been registering to vote for decades, but it’s not the way we’ll be registering to vote in the future.
Earlier this week, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Pedro Cortes announced that beginning August 27, 2015 Pennsylvania will allow citizens to register to vote online. This is a critical first step in updating the Commonwealth’s strong voting system to reflect the needs of regular people today.
More people are online than ever before. We rely on the Internet for more and more of our daily tasks. We go online to pay our bills, order our pizza and everything in between because it’s easier and more convenient than the old ways of doing things. Now, thanks to the Governor Wolf and Secretary Cortes, we can complete or update our voter registrations online as well.
In addition to being easier and more convenient, online registration ensures that every eligible Pennsylvania voter can make his or her voice heard. Far too many of our citizens, especially veterans, seniors and working people don’t participate in our democratic process. During Pennsylvania’s last statewide election, just 35% of eligible citizens voted. One reason for this low turnout is that one out of every five eligible Pennsylvanians wasn’t registered to vote in the first place. Online registration will help veterans, seniors and disabled citizens register quickly and easily, without having to leave their homes. And busy working families, particularly parents, are more likely to register using an online system.
Online registration is also more efficient than our current paper-based system, saving taxpayer dollars. We know this because the states that already have online registration save between 50 cents and two dollars on every registration that’s filed electronically. In Arizona, it costs 83 cents to process a paper ballot registration, but just 3 cents to process one filed electronically. And in 2012, California saved $2.5 million in just 5 weeks as a result of offering registration online. Based on these savings, a recent study projected that Pennsylvania could save more than $1 million by implementing online voter registration leading up to the 2016 election.
Pennsylvania joins 22 other states that already offer online voter registration, so this technology has been tested and proven. In fact, since 2002 when Arizona became the first state to introduce online registration, there have been no reported security breaches of any online voter registration systems across the country. What’s more, because election officials don’t have to read handwritten forms, online registration reduces errors and improves the integrity of our voting system. And election officials report that the security measures used to protect the system from cyber attacks also reduce the risk of voter fraud by stopping and monitoring unauthorized access to these systems.
Support has been building for online voter registration among both Republicans and Democrats in Pennsylvania for many years. Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) has championed this issue in the Legislature for the last four years. Now Governor Wolf and Secretary Ramos have taken the administrative steps necessary to make online registration a reality.
Think about the next time you will need to register to vote. You’ll go online, fill in a few fields of information and receive confirmation that your new or updated registration has been processed in just a few seconds. It will be convenient and easy for every eligible Pennsylvanian to participate. That’s how democracy should work in the 21st Century.