August 28, 2015

Online Voter Registration Makes Voting Easier in Pennsylvania

Erin Casey, online voter registration, Pennsylvania, Voting Rights

by Erin Casey, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Voice

Across the country, states are leading the way in modernizing our voting system so it reflects and is responsive to the way people live today. Yesterday, Pennsylvania joined this movement, becoming the 23rd state in the nation to offer online voter registration. Five additional states and the District of Columbia have taken steps towards allowing online voter registration but have not yet implemented it. In an era when we shop online, bank online and even file our taxes online, it makes sense that we should be able to go online to register to vote as well.

Online registration gives citizens an easier and more convenient way to register, in addition to traditional paper forms. Instead of waiting in line at the DMV or going to the post office to get and send in a registration form, eligible voters can sign up using their computers, tablets or smart phones from anywhere at any time of day. This will ensure that all eligible voters, including veterans, seniors, working people and people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to make their voices heard.

During the 2014 general election, just 35 percent of Pennsylvania’s voting age population turned out to vote. And while there are many reasons for this low turnout, the fact that one out of every five of the state’s adults was not registered certainly contributed. Online registration will strengthen our democracy by bringing more voters onto the rolls and increasing the likelihood that they participate in our elections.

In addition to being more convenient and bringing more people into the process, online voter registration will save valuable taxpayer dollars through efficiency and reduces postage and printing costs. According to a recent report from Pew, states with online voter registration save between 50 cents and a few dollars on each registration that’s processed electronically.

For instance, in Arizona—which was the first state in the nation to offer online voter registration in 2002—it costs as little as three cents to process a registration received online, compared to 83 cents to process a paper form. As a result, Arizona’s Maricopa County saved $1.4 million from online voter registration between 2008 and 2012 thanks to these efficiencies.

Or take California. The state launched its online voter registration system just a few weeks before the general election. In those few weeks, the state processed 900,000 registrations electronically, saving $2.34 on each one. When combined with the savings on printing and postage as a result of online registration, the state saved a total of $2.5 million, and will save even more in future years.

Pennsylvania’s Department of State estimates that implementing online registration will cost roughly $200,000. But the savings are likely to make up for that quickly. A recent report from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law estimated that Pennsylvania will save up to $1.1 million from online registration through 2016, and even more in future years.  

Plus, online voter registration increases the accuracy and integrity of our voting system, improving the voting experience. Because citizens enter their personal information directly into online data fields, election officials do not have to try to decipher handwriting, reducing errors. In turn, more accurate voter rolls will make Election Day run more smoothly.

With all of these benefits, it’s easy to see why so many states offer online registration. What’s striking is how bipartisan support for online registration has remained, despite the rising partisanship we’ve seen across the country. Republicans and Democrats alike understand that online registration is simply smart policy.

In Pennsylvania, online registration has broad bipartisan support. In the Legislature, leaders like Senator Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) have championed the issue. Now online registration has been implemented administratively by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania’s Department of State. Leaders from both parties, along with voting rights advocates and good government groups, have praised the decision to offer online voter registration as good for voters and taxpayers.

Voting is the foundation of our democracy, but our voting system doesn’t work for all of our citizens. Using technology, we can strengthen and improve our voting system so that all citizens can participate, strengthening our democracy, while saving valuable taxpayer resources. States like Pennsylvania are leading the way in modernizing our voting system to bring it into the 21st Century. There’s more to be done, but online registration is a great first step.