OP-ED: Long overdue Pa. online voter registration option
Pennsylvania Department of State
Who registers to vote during the "dog days" of August? Almost 5,000 Pennsylvanians, that's who.
As of Sept. 2, more than 5,000 voters who wanted to register for the first time or update their existing registration submitted an online voter registration application. Those numbers represent the overwhelmingly positive response that Pennsylvania's new online voter registration application has received since its launch Aug. 27.
The fact that 5,000 Pennsylvanians chose to register to vote in the waning days of summer underscores one of the benefits of online voter registration: It's easy and convenient for voters to use. Check it out for yourself at register.votespa.com.
Approximately 44 percent of the applications were changes to existing registrations. Updated registration means that the voter rolls will be more accurate and current. Voters who can easily change their address online will vote at the correct polling place, resulting in fewer provisional ballots and less waiting in line.
Besides the ease of use for voters, Pennsylvania county election offices will derive substantial benefits from the electronic transfer of voter registration information. Counties will receive voters' information from the online application the same way they now receive voter registration information from Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) through "Motor Voter." Because counties will have fewer paper forms to data enter by hand, they will save time and money.
At the Department of State, we are pleased that so many Pennsylvanians have embraced the new online voter registration system. The technology to create such a system has been available for some time. In fact, PennDOT has been electronically transmitting voter registration information to the department through the "Motor Voter" program for about a decade. Not only that, but the General Assembly granted the Secretary of the Commonwealth permission to develop an electronic voter registration application way back in 2002 when it passed Pennsylvania's modern voter registration law.
The law explicitly empowers the secretary to "prescribe the form of an official voter registration application." Further, the law specifically gives permission for the secretary to develop an electronic application and states: "Nothing in this part shall prohibit the design and use of an electronic voter registration application which includes the applicant's digitized or electronic signature."
The system the department built conforms to its expressly granted authority under the law. Because, simply put, for voters who have a Pennsylvania driver's license or PennDOT ID, the system "includes the applicant's digitized" signature. Voters who don't have a PennDOT record can still use the system and the counties can still reap the benefit of the electronic transfer of information because the voter can print, sign and mail their application just like a regular mail-in registration form. As an added convenience, the voter can request that the Department mail them a signature form already printed with the information they entered online.
The department looks forward to improving the voting experience for all Pennsylvania voters. As 5,000 voters have already learned, it is now easier and more convenient than ever.
— Marian K. Schneider is Deputy Secretary for Elections and Administration at the Pennsylvania Department of State.