No Online Voter Registration Yet in PA—But They’re Working on it
Proving we’re not destined to sit on the sidelines of every progressive issue in state politics (fingers crossed), there are a number of issues circulating through the state House Senate that would change the way we vote—including registering to vote online, finally. The legislation is similar to laws in other states throughout the country and supported by several voting-rights groups, like Common Cause PA and the Committee of Seventy.
“[Online voter registration] will dramatically reduce counties’ and the state’s voter registration processing costs, improve the accuracy of registrations and official voter rolls, and improve security of registrations by preventing bad actors from intercepting confidential information or failing to turn in legitimate registrations,” noted Common Cause PA executive director Barry Kauffman earlier this month.
Fifteen states have approved online registration and 14 other states are moving on it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Department of State had begun the process of allowing online voting during last year’s elections but held off due to dealings with the Voter ID law, which has been temporarily shelved. Legal dealings continue later this spring.
The state government committee approved the bill last Tuesday and sent it to the full chamber. The Senate reconvenes April 8.
“The Committee of Seventy is certainly in favor of reforms that make it easier for people to participate in elections, and certainly online voter registration is something that would be a big help,” says Ellen Kaplan, policy director of the Philly-based Committee of Seventy. “Right now, people have to register to vote using paper applications and as we saw in the November 2012 elections, when you have a major election — in this case, obviously, the presidential election — they were backlogged about 28,000 applications two weeks before the elections.”
Last year, State Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) introduced a bill that would have implemented an online voting registration system. Lots of state Republicans were on board then, believing the lack-of-paper registration would have been a cost-cutting measure for the commonwealth. At the time, last spring, the Department of State had already been working on a process to register online. The state was set to begin online registration by July 1, 2012—but they ran into a problem: Voter ID. As late as August, after Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson refused to grant an injunction that would have halted the controversial law, the Department of State decided not to go forward with the online voter registration program, as well as expanded absentee ballot registration, due to the problems they expected the ID law to cause.
A spokesman for the Department of State told the [Philadelphia] Inquirer that county election officials had expressed concerns about being able to manage the initiatives on top of the state’s controversial new voter ID requirements. Earlier reports have suggested that the state has a lot of work left to do in order to fully implement the measure.
All decisions were criticized by a horde of elections officials—like City Commissioner Stephanie Singer—and then Voter ID was put off until after the elections.
“Online voting registration doesn’t have to come by way of legislation,” notes Kaplan. “The State Dept. can do it on its own. It didn’t go into effect last summer because the Dept. of State said they heard from a lot of local election boards that they were just overwhelmed with worrying about the Voter ID law.” She similarly notes online voting registration won’t require “the same data entry need…and hopefully it will go smoother on the county-end, too.”
Now, you’ve got a deadline: You need to register to vote by April 22 for the May 21, 2013 primary—and you can’t do it online. That’s less than a month away, people.
This post has been updated to include Ellen Kaplan’s comments and corrected to note the bill has moved through the state Senate, not House. Apologies for the error.
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