By: Andrew Lowy
Vermont voting has entered the twenty-first century with a new online voter registration system. On October 12, 2015, Vermont’s Secretary of State, Jim Condos, launched a new online voter software allowing eligible Vermont citizens to prepare for election day online. The system allows voters to register to vote, find their polling place, request an absentee ballot and track its status, as well as view sample ballots. The software also includes features to aid local election officials in processing ballots, entering election results, and registering voters. The new software cost Vermont $2.8 million. However, 70% of the funds came from the federal government through the Help America Vote Act.
Vermont officials have high hopes for the online software. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin remarked that the software will make a huge difference in making voting easier. Online registration will hopefully boost the amount of active voters and lead to more voter participation. Secretary Condos added that “[t]his is positive progress that Vermont can be proud of.”
Twenty-five other states have implemented similar online voter registration programs in the last decade. Even though Vermont’s primary objective is to increase voter turnout, other states have considered the cost reductions of online registration. Arizona saw significant savings after moving to paperless registration. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), it cost Arizona 83 cents per paper registration and 3 cents per online registration. Other states have also experienced significant cost reductions after adopting an online system.
Yet a major concern for any voter software is security. J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, is wary of online registration. In an interview with the NCSL, Halderman said that in order for these online programs to be successful, precautions must be taken so as to protect voters from impersonators. Vermont’s system, like many others of its kind, identifies voters by their date of birth, name, and social security number or driver’s license number. Halderman argues that the inclusion of information not readily available to others, such as a social security number, is critical to the security of online voter registrations. Reliance on publically available personal information, such as a voter’s date of birth and name, is risky. Even driver’s license numbers can pose problems depending on the state. While many states use randomly computerized numbers on their driver’s license, some states generate driver’s license numbers by coding the driver’s name and birthdate. Thus, if a voter’s name and date of birth is known, somebody who is familiar with how a state generates driver’s license numbers can deduce that voter’s number.
However, few states openly broadcast how they generate driver’s license numbers, and Vermont state officials seem content with relying on driver’s license numbers to identify voters. In fact, Secretary Condos has announced that the next project is automatic voter registration. Using DMV records, Vermont would automatically register all licensed drivers to vote unless the driver specifically opts-out. Secretary Condos intends to bring this issue to the legislature later this year. In the meantime, Vermont officials hope that the new software will make it easier for the approximately 50,000 unregistered potential voters to be able to cast a ballot next election day.