What can’t you do online nowadays? The government lets us use the internet to pay parking tickets, and several states even allow its residents to renew their driver’s licenses online, so why not update voter registration online too? That is exactly what House Bill 194 will allow Ohioans to do.
As it passed on July 5, 2011, House Bill 194 had the ambitious goal of embracing technology by allowing Ohioans to complete their voter registration online too. However, even before House Bill 194 could take effect, legislators passed House Bill 224, which repealed the online voter registration established in House Bill 194. Despite repealing online voter registration, legislators have left intact the requirement of setting up an online system for updating information. Specifically, voters will be able to update their name and address.
Any change in election law is likely to draw criticism, and House Bill 194 is no exception. However, even the bill’s critics have not taken issue with giving voters the choice of updating their registration information online. In fact, one particularly harsh critic even stated that such a change is the only positive aspect of the bill. Those who support the bill as a much needed modernization of Ohio’s voting laws have noted that this simple technological update will make updating information a quick and convenient task.
Ohio is not the first state to consider using technology to make voting easier for its citizens. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 34 states currently allow voters to access their voter registration information online. States allow voters to update different amounts of information through their online systems. Some states, like Texas, restrict voters to updating only their name and address information online. Other states, like Florida allow voters to update a wider range of information including their name, address, party affiliation, and signature. In the most dramatic move toward making voting more technology-friendly, eleven states give, or will soon give, their residents the ability to register to vote online. North Carolina is considering a move to online voter registration as well.
Giving voters the opportunity to update their voter registration online has several obvious benefits. Proponents of measures to modernize voter registration note that digitalization is cost-effective and more accurate than paper forms. However, whether there are risks to implementing such a system still remains to be seen. One possible risk is that states will choose to limit other methods for updating voter registration as a means to direct voters to the online system. Currently, Ohioans have the choice of updating registration either in person, or by submitting a form obtained online, to several different locations such as the office of the county board of elections, county treasurers’ office, public libraries, and public high schools to name a few. House Bill 194 is trying to make updating registration online an additional method, so this concern has not yet surfaced.
Current debate surrounding other aspects of the bill has overshadowed any concerns about updating voter registration online. A coalition formed to repeal the bill already submitted the 1,000 signatures that were needed to start the repeal process. However, this repeal will only be put to a vote of the people if an additional 231,000 valid voter signatures are filed by September 29, 2011.
Lindsay Bouffard is a third-year student at William & Mary Law School.