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electionlineWeekly — April 23, 2015

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

Online voter registration numbers grow
At least a dozen states consider OVR legislation in 2015

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This week, with the deadline to register to vote in the May Parliamentary elections looming, more than 400,000 Britons used the country’s online voter registration system to register…in one day.

Britain launched their online voter registration system in June 2014 and since then, more than 7.1 million people have used it to register online or update their existing registrations.

Even though the British system differs from voter registration here in the United States because it’s a national system, states throughout U.S. that provide online voter registration (OVR) can regale you with significant numbers of people using the online systems to register or update their voter registration.

Currently 20 states offer online voter registration with an additional six states and the District of Columbia working to implement systems mandated by law.

While voter ID legislation might grab the bigger headlines, 2015 is proving to be a banner year for OVR legislation with varying degrees of success. To-date at least a dozen states including Texas and Florida have introduced OVR.

Most recently New Mexico and Oklahoma joined the growing list of legislatures approving OVR. In both of these states the legislation had the support of the chief elections official and was approved with little to no debate.

In New Mexico the Legislature approved Senate Bill 643 without a single dissenting vote. The legislation was signed into law on April 17.

OVR was also approved in Oklahoma with little fanfare. Senate Bill 313 was approved 37-2 in the Senate and 61-29 in the House. Gov. Mary Fallin signed the legislation into law on April 17.

The debate in Florida has been far from quiet.

With the support of the Florida State Association of Supervisor of Elections, House Bill 7143 and Senate Bill 228 both appear to be headed to final approval despite the best efforts of Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Gov. Rick Scott.

When testifying before a Senate committee last week, Detzner warned of fraud by “forces of evil” and said implementing the system could be a “train wreck.” Senators weren’t having any of it with one of them even referring to Detzner’s testimony as BS.

On April 16, FSASE President Jerry Holland, Duval County supervisor of elections sent a letter to Scott emphasizing the organizations support.

“In examining online voter registration, we have found there to be only positive gains from the concept: lower costs, more security and greater accuracy,” Holland wrote in his letter.

Both Florida bills would require implementation of the system by October 2017 and the House bill appropriates $1.8 million to implement the statewide system.

In Texas, there are currently five pieces of legislation—House Bills 444, 446, 76 and 953 as well as Senate bill 385 — all in various states of debate that would support OVR in the Lone Star State.

All the bills under consideration would require the potential voters to have a current Texas ID or driver’s license and use the Texas Department of Public Safety or secretary of state’s office websites.

County commissions throughout the state, at the urging of local election administrators, have been passing resolutions in support of the pending legislation.

In addition, the Texas Association of Election Administrators and the County and District Clerks’ Association of Texas both support online voter registration.

According to Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen about 60 counties have taken measures to urge the Legislature to pass OVR.

Callanen has showed lawmakers what she calls her box of shame — a box with voter registration forms that are hand written and illegible. She said that it costs her office a lot of angst when they can’t read a form and therefore can’t help someone register, something that would be largely, although not completely eliminated with OVR.

Callanen is hopeful for the passage of OVR, but noted that time is running out in this year’s session to get it done.

Other states considering online voter registration are Ohio (SB 63), Pennsylvania where Secretary of State Pedro Cortes testified before a House committee that he believes his office does not need legislative action to move forward with OVR and just last week with the support of newly elected Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, an OVR bill was introduced to the Rhode Island Legislature.

Even Guam is getting in on the act. In February several bills were introduced that would support implementing OVR on the U.S. territory. The Guam Election Commission is studying the possibilities.

Officials in Iowa are going about things a bit differently. In January, the Iowa Voter Registration Commission voted unanimously to establish OVR.

Under this proposal, residents would be able to register online by accessing a voter registration application through the state’s Department of Transportation website.

Because it would limit those applying online only to residents who have a signature already on file with the DOT Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls) has introduced legislation that would expand who may register online.

The Senate approved Senate File 331 26-20 and moves now to the House, although Danielson has expressed his concerns about its future because the bill may get wrapped up in other election-related legislation.

Of course OVR legislation has not proved successful in every state where it’s been introduced.

HB 48, which would have created an online voter registration system in Montana and was supported by Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, was tabled in committee.

McCulloch did not take the failure lightly and has been outspoken in her frustration of the Legislatures failure to act.

“This bill had the bipartisan support of so many across Montana,” McCulloch told the Flathead Newsgroup. “It’s a shame that legislators ignored the tremendous support for the bill and chose to vote solely on party lines.”