by Marissa Liebling (Legislative Director, Project Vote) & Rosemarie Clouston (National Coordinator, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law)
While 38 states and the District of Columbia have created, or are creating, opportunities for their residents to register to vote online, only a handful have online systems that are fully accessible to all their residents. Most states’ online voter registration (OVR) systems require individuals to input their driver’s license or state-issued ID card numbers in order to use the system, as they pull a voter’s signature from those state records. These requirements reduce the benefits of OVR and disproportionately exclude traditionally underrepresented communities—including minorities, low-income individuals, the elderly and young people—from registering online. The convenience and efficiency of OVR should be available to all of a state’s residents, regardless of whether they have a state-issued ID card.
As our busy modern lives increasingly rely on the Internet for everything from paying taxes to registering children for school, online voter registration is a quick and convenient way to help voters take the first step to engage in the electoral process. Further, in some states the online deadline is later than the deadline for voters mailing their applications, which expands an individual’s opportunity to register to vote. Communities of color, seniors, young people, and individuals with low incomes are all less likely to possess driver’s licenses, as demonstrated by states’ own estimates (600,000 registered voters in Texas, as one example). Fair elections call for equal access to registration procedures, including online voter registration.
Two states—Pennsylvania and Kentucky—have recently taken steps to make their OVR systems more convenient and inclusive, and serve as examples for other states.
In March 2016, less than a year after Pennsylvania launched OVR, the state upgraded its system to allow individuals to submit their voter registration applications online by uploading an image of their signature. When the OVR system launched in August 2015, only individuals with a Pennsylvania-issued driver’s license or state ID card (collectively, PennDOT ID) could submit their registration application entirely online. Individuals without a PennDOT ID were mailed a signature form to complete the registration process. As of June 15, 2016, 9,040 Pennsylvanians have already successfully used this new signature upload option.