[this originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on February 2]
“Take it online, Texas!”
This is the request from Texas.gov, the state’s official website, which provides many opportunities to do just that: renewing your driver’s license, getting a cosmetology license, or even applying to carry a handgun.
But one common sense, secure, and proven option is missing: registering to vote.
The need is obvious, and I’ve see it play out firsthand. Leading up to the 2016 general election, I registered voters as part of TechVotes, a volunteer effort to increase civic engagement amongst Austin’s tech employees. I was constantly asked why folks had to show off their horrible handwriting and fill out a paper application instead of simply registering on their phone or laptop.
The answer is simple. Currently, Texas law prohibits would-be voters from registering online. The website for Texas Secretary of State, the state’s chief election officer, gives the impression that you can register online. But after you fill out the form, the website informs you that “[h]itting the submit button will load your information into the proper form for you to print, sign, and mail.”
Fortunately, there is legislation pending in both the Texas House of Representatives and Senate to implement online voter registration across the state. Last session proved there is vast, bipartisan support for the idea: the House bill filed by Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) garnered a total of 76 authors and co-authors from the 150-member body that is overwhelmingly Republican.
Online voter registration is secure and accurate. Voters registering online would be required to have a Texas driver’s license or personal identification card. Therefore, online registration includes the same information on a paper application but involves a higher standard to authenticate someone’s identity.
Real-time data entry into the voter registration system would allow a voter to make immediate corrections if incorrect information was entered. Plus, voters will not be be reliant on a clerk manually inputting their information from the paper registration form and the occasional human error, often resulting from sloppy handwriting.
Voters would also have an easy means of updating their registration when they move, marry, or change their name. This would help to prevent many of the voter roll inaccuracies that have received press coverage in recent days.
Experts from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Department of Information Resources, and Secretary of State’s office all previously testified before the legislature that online voter registration would be dependable and secure. This is, after all, a proven technology. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have fully operational online voter registration systems, and another five states have passed legislation and are currently in the implementation stage.
Finally, online voter registration saves taxpayers money. Arizona, the first state to pass online voter registration, saw costs in its largest county reduced from 83 cents per paper application to a mere 3 cents per online registration. Closer to home, Travis County’s voter registrar, Bruce Elfant, estimates a savings of $100,000 during presidential election years, which always result in a significant uptick in registration.
Last session, the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board estimated the cost of implementing online voter registration at a one-time state investment of only $208,000. That cost would immediately be overshadowed by savings in county voter registrars’ offices across the state.
Texans regularly do their banking, purchase airline tickets, and file their income taxes over the internet. We conduct an increasing amount of our business and personal lives online, and it is time for civic life to catch up.
So let’s take it online, Texas. But this time, include voter registration.