Jerry Holland: Online voter registration is faster, cheaper and more secure

The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections (FSASE), a group of which I am currently the state president, has 66 supervisors of elections from both parties from around the state. We support the passage of online voter registration (House Bill 7143 and Senate Bill 228) in Florida.

It is important to us because current voter registration is handled entirely by hand, on paper forms, and manually entered into our statewide database. This method is much more costly and prone to error than a modern online system.

Let me explain. At our office, if we receive an incomplete voter application, we must delay the processing and mail back the incomplete form to the voter – this costs us processing time and postage for each occurrence. Upon receiving the completed form, a staff person manually types the paper form and scans it into our system. An online form would be set up with required fields that would prevent a person from electronically submitting the form unless it was complete. This eliminates staff possessing, postage and the possibility of human error in re-copying the form. The process our office is mandated to walk through involves multiple rounds of mail before we can determine a person may no longer reside at a particular residence. With online registration, we likely would see many more people updating their voter information through the convenience of online services, just as they do with other information like bank accounts and bills after a move.

We want a secure system. That is why, as supervisors of elections, we ask the implementation of such a system not happen until after the 2016 election cycle to ensure proper time to develop, test and implement the system without any disruptions to the 2016 presidential cycle next year. Online voter registration is more secure in verifying identity than traditional paper forms because the system coordinates with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) in implementing identity verifications. Online voter registration will only be available to those who are already linked to the DHSMV system. Whether online, or on a paper form, all voter registration requires either a driver’s license number or the last four of a Social Security number. Online forms will automatically allow the voter registration identification to be linked to an individual identity within the DHSMV system and allow the existing electronic signature on file with the DHSMV to be used for any new online registrations or voter updates. This is more secure because the voter applicants linked to the DHSMV system have already proven their citizenship and identity, something that is not required ahead of time with the current processing of paper voter registration applications. Currently, paper forms are accepted on the basis of applicants swearing to an oath as they check boxes attesting to their eligibility. The paper forms are, in essence, based on an “honor system” and applicants are added to the rolls until a voter maintenance window determines they might have questionable eligibility.

Inevitably, we get asked whether online registration benefits one party over the other. More than 20 states now have online voter registration and all have found the system to be party neutral. No one party will benefit over another. Several of these states were also able to implement the system in only a matter of months. We are proposing two years.

In examining online voter registration, we have found there to be only positive gains from the concept: lower costs, more security and greater accuracy. We want to bring our voter registration system into the 21st century and make an online option available. We hope the legislature and Governor Rick Scott will come alongside us and support this measure.

Jerry Holland is supervisor of elections in Duval County and president of The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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