By Mark Listes
Indiana has turned to the app store to increase its voter turnout in the 2014 election cycle. The Indiana Secretary of State’s office created and released an app in early 2014 called “Indiana Voters.” The app lets Indiana voters “register to vote or confirm their voter registration, find their polling place, look up candidates on their ballot, track their absentee ballot, and contact local elected officials.” Indiana had only 58% of its population turn out to vote in the 2012 election cycle. Indiana’s Secretary of State hopes that the new app will help the other 42% get to the polls.
While the app is a possible step forward in the quest to increase voter turnout, it is not an option that is available in every state. Only 20 states allow voters to register online. Indiana took this step in 2009, when its legislature passed Ind. Code Ann. § 3-7-26.7-4 allowing Indiana voters to submit their voter registration online on June 30, 2010. This move added Indiana to the growing number of states that allow voters to register online. In the last two years alone, 10 states have made online voter registration available to their citizens. Voter registration studies, however, do not evidence a correlation between instituting online voter registration systems and increased voter turnout. Although “Indiana Voters” is an app and not just a website, it offers many of the same services that traditional voter registration websites offer. It buttresses traditional website registration by allowing people to register to vote from their smart phone.
In 2010 Colorado implemented an online voter registration system providing a case study to answer the question of whether online registration increases turnout. Given results in Colorado, it appears online registration does not increase turnout. Using general elections as a metric, one can see that voter turnout actually decreased from 71% in 2008 to 70.8% in 2012. This is a nominal difference, but it is not an increase.
Indiana’s experience mirrors Colorado’s in this respect. In 2008, 59.1% of voters in Indiana turned out for the general election; in 2012 only 55.1% of turned out to vote.
There are many reasons that voter turnout increases and decreases, and the 2008 and 2012 election cycles were not exempt from these. The 2008, election cycle marked President Barack Obama’s historic victory as the first African American president. In 2012 he was the incumbent. Incumbent elections often have lower turnouts in general. Between 2008 and 2012, however, Indiana’s voting-eligible population rose by about 100,000 people but the number of voters fell by over 100,000. These numbers suggest that the online voter registration website might not be the voter turnout panacea many hoped for.
In addition to concerns about efficacy, there are also concerns about security. In an interview with the J. Alex Halderman, a cyber security expert, Halderman said one of the chief concerns is making sure that online voter registration systems ask for information that can confirm that the voter is not being impersonated. He gives the example of driver’s license numbers, stating that some states have used these in the past, but found that driver’s license numbers can be generated by anyone who knows the date of birth of the individual they are trying to impersonate. Halderman, did state, however, that “it is possible to do online voter registration securely.”
Indiana has taken steps to prevent Halderman’s concerns. Indiana law makes it a crime to exploit the security weaknesses that Halderman outlines. Ind. Code Ann. § 3-14-2-12, for example, makes it a felony to register to vote in someone else’s name. Ind. Code Ann. § 3-14-2-1 also makes submitting a registration application with false information on it a felony. So, one could argue that the correct deterrence methods are already in place. Also, Ind. Code Ann. § 3-7-26.7-6 states that the information that a registrant submits must be verified against the existing state databases, and Ind. Code Ann. § 3-7-26.7-5 states that the website must be secure. So it is possible, that Indiana has taken the appropriate steps to alleviate some of the security concerns.
Lastly, Indiana’s new app is different than a website. It is free and it is available on both Apple and Android devices. It also does more than just register people to vote. It even lets voters access information such as who is on their ballot. It is possible that the app approach will mobilize a larger number of voters because it is a more accessible and user-friendly resource.
The question remains, however, whether this voter registration app will actually increase voter turnout. The answer will soon be in hand. Voter registration in Indiana closed on October 6 and the voter turnout numbers will be made available not long after the general election in November.