Posted on | October 14, 2012 | 1 comment
On the contrary, online registration systems have dramatically boosted voter sign-ups in the dozen states that allow citizens to register to vote over the Internet.
Colorado has logged more than 79,000 voter registrations since Sept. 1 — and more than 300,000 since introducing online sign-ups in 2010. In the two years prior to going online, the state logged roughly 90,000 registrations.
This year Colorado introduced a service that delivers versions of voter registration forms optimized for tablet PCs and smartphones. “We’ve increased our voter registration to a new level,” says Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
New York, which ranks 47th in percentage of eligible voters registered to cast a ballot, in August began letting citizens sign up to vote via a Department of Motor Vehicles Web page. Some 29,200 New Yorkers have since used the online system — 11,185 of whom will be first-time voters.
“This new initiative has knocked down barriers to democracy — attracting not only thousands of New Yorkers who need to update their voter information, but also a large number of first-time voters,” says Rich Azzopardi, spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Online sign-ups have proved to be convenient for citizens and cost-effective for state elections bureaus. Arizona, the first state to offer online voter registration, in 2002, has reported that a single paper registration costs 83 cents’ worth of staff time to process vs. 3 cents for an online registration.
Online registration is also very secure. Details on forms are automatically cross-referenced with motor vehicle or tax records, minimizing the risk of fraud, says Jennie Bowser, senior fellow at the non-profit National Conference of State Legislatures.
In fact, voting experts say, online voter sign-ups are, in general, much more reliable than manually processed forms. Automation reduces the opportunity for mishandling or mistyping by state election workers, or potential manipulation by partisan voter registration volunteers. “Online helps to avoid all those potential human pitfalls,” Bowser says.
Other states that offer online voter registration include California, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Connecticut and South Carolina have passed laws to do so but have not yet implemented the service.
The success of online voter sign-ups might be an early precursor to actually voting over the Internet on PCs and mobile devices, say voting and security experts. Online voting could potentially boost voting by young people, ethnic groups and others who are not likely to visit a polling booth or bother with a mail-in ballot. However, actually voting over the Internet requires overcoming “a completely different set of challenges,” says Richard Hasen, law and political science professor at the University of California-Irvine.
Without a national ID, akin to a state driver’s license, authenticating votes in a presidential election would be problematic, says Bruce Snell, director of technical marketing and security firm McAfee. And buying votes from otherwise apathetic citizens would be much easier with digital ballots than with paper ones.
“We already have a bad enough time with voting in the physical world,” Snell says. “It would be much easier to perpetrate fraud with digital voting.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to actually voting online is hackers. Last March, the DC Board of Elections thought it had developed an online voting system ready for prime time. So the board issued an open challenge to hackers to test it. A team of researchers from the University of Michigan cracked the DC system in 48 hours.
In his book The Voting Wars, Hasen recounts how the Michigan researchers gained full control of the election servers, changed votes, fended off hacks from China and Iran and caused the Michigan fight song to play on the election officials’ computers.
“I don’t expect we’ll be using Web browsers to vote anytime soon, Hasen says.
By Byron Acohido