By Michael D. Hernandez
Nebraska residents by 2015 will be able to register to vote online as the state became the 20th to embrace a paperless voter registration process.
Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman on Monday signed into law LB 661 by Senator Bob Krist, the same day Georgia launched a state website that allows its residents to register online to vote.
These two developments, along with an analysis of recently filed legislation, make clear that offering an online option for voter registration is one of the year’s hottest elections topics.
Currently, residents in 16 states can register to vote online, and four additional states have authorized but have not implemented such a system. So far this year, 14 states that do not already have the paperless registration system have pending legislation that, if passed, would allow online voter registration.
State elections officials in Illinois told the National Conference of State Legislatures they expect to launch an online voter registration system ahead of a July 1, 2014, deadline set by a bill enacted last year. Elections officials in West Virginia told NCSL they are working to implement the state’s system at an unknown date following the November 2014 general election. Hawaii, which enacted online voter registration in 2012, also will launch its system.
The online systems are equipped to register voters who have a state-issued driver’s license or identification card. Information from those forms of identification is used to validate the data an online registrant has entered to qualify as a voter. If a person is added electronically to the voter registration list, the signature from his or her driver’s license or identification card is used as the signature on record for voting.
Online voter registration has enjoyed bipartisan support where it has been implemented. In 2002, Arizona, a conservative state, was the first to allow people to register online to vote. Washington, where progressive elections measures such as all-mail voting have taken root, was next to adopt online voter registration, making it available to residents in 2007.
Legislators who have supported online voter registration have pointed to its apparent convenience and potential to cut down on the administrative costs of registering new voters.
Still, the measure has not won over all lawmakers.
Florida Senator Jeff Clemens (D) this week asked that his online voter registration bill, SB 784, be put on hold when he sensed waning support for the legislation. Critics of his bill called it premature as it preceded recommendations about online voter registration that are expected to come from the state’s elections supervisors by the end of 2014.
Michael D. Hernandez is an NCSL elections policy specialist. Email Michael