As of March 2015, a total of 21 states offer online registration, and another two states have passed legislation to create online voter registration systems, but have not yet implemented them. Additionally, another three states presently offer limited online voter registration. See the table below for details.
Online voter registration systems supplement the traditional paper-based process, by which new voters fill out a paper form that is submitted to election officials, who confirm the registration is valid, and enter the information from the paper application into the registration system.
Online voter registration follows essentially the same process, but instead of filling out a paper application, the voter fills out a form via an Internet site, and that paperless form is submitted electronically to election officials. In most states the application is reviewed electronically; if the request is confirmed to be valid, the new registration is added to the state’s voter registration list.
That validation step is done by comparing the information on the online registration form against the information provided by the same individual when he or she received a driver’s license or other state-issued identification card. The signature already on record with the state becomes the signature on record for voting. When the information does not a match, the application is sent to officials for further review or action.
Online systems are not equipped to register voters who do not have state-issued driver’s licenses or identification cards. Those voters, or any voters who care to, can use a paper registration form.
Arizona was the innovator in paperless voter registration, having implemented its system in 2002. Washington followed with authorizing legislation in 2007 and implementation in 2008. Since then, more and more states have gone live with online voter registration. While most states have enacted specific legislation to authorize online voter registration, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri did not. Minnesota in 2013 made online voter registration available without enabling legislation but the legislature in 2014 authorized the state's system.
View the November 12, 2013 webinar "Online Voter Registration: The Bipartisan Trend in Elections" for details about online voter registration, including history, implementation and security.
The Pew Charitable Trusts in its "Understanding Online Voter Registration" report examined system costs, implementation, voter convenience, management and security for the 13 states that had online voter registration in June 2013.
Costs (and Savings) with Online Voter Registration
According to the 2010 report, Online Voter Registration: Case Studies in Arizona and Washington, Arizona experienced a reduction in per-registration costs from 83 cents per paper registration to 3 cents per online registration. Other states have also experienced significant cost savings in processing registrations.
Implementation costs have in some cases been absorbed within existing budgets, been paid for with Help America Vote Act funds or have required one-time appropriations, ranging from $250,000 to $750,000 for more elaborate systems.
For more background on online voter registration, see the April 2014 issue of NCSL's elections newsletter, The Canvass, or contact NCSL’s elections team.
While no fraud or security breaches are known to date, security for online voter registration is an essential element of system design. Several approaches can and are used to ensure system security and prevent fraud or breaches by hackers.
- The registrant provides his or her driver's license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number, information that others will not have.
- Systems often include “captcha” boxes, where registrants must decode images that a computer cannot decode, to prevent hacking by programmers.
- Data is encrypted and data logs highlight unusual activity that can be investigated.
- Multi-screen systems, that offer just one question on a screen, are harder to hack.
Read this interview with cybersecurity expert, J. Alex Halderman, as he talks about security for online registration.
Illinois: Online voter registration became available in June 2014.
Massachusetts: Legislation to create online voter registration was enacted in May 2014.
Delaware: Full online voter registration became available in April 2014.
Nebraska: Legislation to create online voter registration was enacted in March 2014.
Georgia: Online voter registration became available in March 2014.
Minnesota: Online voter registration became available in October 2013, without enabling legislation. In 2014, the legislature authorized the use of the system.
Connecticut: Online voter registration went "live" in December 2013.
Illinois, Virginia and West Virginia: Legislation to create online voter registration was enacted in 2013.
New Mexico: In 2015, New Mexico enacted SB 643.
(b) In Ohio, a registered voter can update an existing registration record online, but new applications must still be made on paper.
(c) In New York, the registration system is not fully paperless. Voters can submit a voter registration application online, but paper is exchanged between the motor vehicle system and the statewide database. This creates a paperless experience from the voter's perspective, but administrative processes are still paper-based.
(d) In Michigan, an online system permits voters to change their address for both their drivers license (or personal ID card) and voter registration at the same time. Michigan law requires that the same address be on record for both.
(e) In Missouri, a person can register to vote online and electronically provide a signature using a mobile device, tablet computer or touchscreen computer, but not a standard desktop computer. The state reviews the information and prints out the registration form, which it sends to the person's local elections office for verification.