Legislation allowing Californians to register online to vote has landed on Governor Jerry Brown's desk. Online voter registration could commence before the Secretary of State's office completes VoteCal, a new voter database that will not be ready until 2015, at the earliest. (At which time the technology used for that database will likely be out of date).
The bill would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to create a system of electronic (digitized) signatures that election officials would use to verify the authenticity of a voter's information. This would arguably be more accurate than the current practice. Presently, county election officials compare a voter's signature to their signature on the paper registration forms.
California would not be alone in allowing voters to register online. Nine other states, including Arizona and Oregon, have similar registration programs, and more are in the process of implementing such programs.
The primary criticism of the bill is that it would increase the potential for voter fraud. This is a legitimate concern and adequate safeguards should and must be taken because the benefits to allowing voters to register online are significant.
Allowing voters to register online will greatly increase with the ease with which people can register to vote. The proposal will likely boost the number of young voters, for whom "snail mail" is a quaint term that evokes a long forgotten memory something called "stamps."
Many of us who can register do not. In Los Angeles County, for instance, estimates show that more than a million eligible residents have not registered to vote.
Quite simply, more people who are registered to vote means more people who actually will vote. Barring serious countervailing concerns, almost any reform that boosts participation in our democracy should be strongly considered, and implemented.
Allowing voters to register online could also save something we have very little of in this state: money.
Governor Brown has 30 days to sign or veto the bill. Although the DMV has argued that it does not have the resources to implement the bill without sacrificing other projects, if Governor Brown promptly signs the bill it could allow qualified members of the Golden State to register online in time to vote in the 2012 elections.
Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.
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