Electronic Signatures Could Revolutionize Voter Registration

With electronic signatures for voter registration, there would be no more re-entering handwritten forms, no more mistakes, and no more turning people away from the polls because their paper registration form never made.
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Think of all the places you sign your name electronically. Why not on your voter registration form? It would revolutionize voter registration.

To register to vote today, you have to print out a paper form, fill it out by hand, sign it, and mail it in. The registrar then has to decipher often-illegible handwriting and keystroke the information into their voter database. This is time-consuming, very costly, and filled with mistakes. The mistakes often cost people the right to vote. In 2008, more than two million voters were unable to vote due to registration problems.

By making the entire process electronic - including the signature - we can bring voter registration into the Digital Age. Using any mobile device with a touch screen - iPhone, iPad, Droid, etc. - voters can type their information into the National Voter Registration Form, sign it with a stylus or their finger, and submit it with one touch. Registrars would then be able to seamlessly transfer the data to their voter files.

No more re-entering handwritten forms. No more mistakes. No more turning people away from the polls because their paper registration form never made it through the multiple steps from their hand to the voter file.

The ability to register electronically is no longer a fantasy or a distant possibility. It is here right now. A company called Verafirma worked with Santa Clara County, California to install a system where eight test voters registered to vote last week, all of them using different mobile devices.

The beauty of this technology is that it is open to the millions of people with a touch screen device, including those with below-average incomes, or anyone who can borrow a touch screen device for the few minutes it takes to register to vote. Verafirma has even designed a version where the user can enter their data on a PC or a Mac, receive a text message on their touch-screen phone, sign, and have it integrated into the electronic form before it is sent to the registrar, according to co-founder Michael Marubio.

This opens up incredible possibilities. Millennials, who define themselves by their connection to new technology, will take to this like tweens to Justin Bieber. They need to, because in addition to having dismal voter registration rates, more than 34% of them have moved since 2008 - a far higher percentage than for any other population segment. Another 9.5 million youths have turned 18 since 2008. They will all need to register or re-register to vote in 2010.

By providing instant mobile voter registration, this system could help any voter, even those without technological savvy or a personal touch-screen device. Voter registration organizations that serve low-income communities could begin using touch-screen devices like the iPad on registration drives, instead of carrying around a lot of paper.

By being electronic, the process can also be started from any website or social network media outlet. Imagine inserting an electronic voter registration link on political websites, news media outlets, even the Huffington Post. Read today's headlines and get motivated? Click here to register. Message your friends about a social problem? Why not add a voter registration link.

Right now, according to Marubio, Verafirma believes this form of registration would be accepted in 18 states without changing the law. It could be expanded to the other 32 states if Congress set a timetable by which states have to accept registrations with electronic signatures. The perfect vehicle to add this to is H.R. 1719 - a bill awaiting markup that requires states to allow online voter registration.

Electronic registrations with electronic signatures is actually an easier advancement for states than online registration because no complicated website is required, just the ability to transfer electronic data.

Electronic registration is also better than online registration because it can embrace all voters, not just those with driver's licenses. One study in Wisconsin found that more than half of African American and Hispanic adults, and nearly a quarter of those over 65, did not have valid driver's licenses or state photo IDs. A Missouri study confirmed these problems. People can register online in seven states - Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon, Utah and Washington - but only if they have a state driver's license on file that provides the state with the voter's signature. By supplying the signature electronically, touch-screen registrations overcome this limitation.

But what about voter fraud, the mythical bogeyman that has blocked helpful election reform over and over again? Well, it turns out that an electronic signature is far more secure and verifiable than an inked one, because the electronic software records a mini-movie of the person signing and not just the end product. The software also locks the signature so any tampering would show up in the code that election officials receive with the registration form.

This is an innovation whose time has come. Fair Elections Legal Network is going to work to expand its reach.

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