By: Timmer McCroskey
In 2016, I was a young 20-year-old attending Arizona State University. When election season arrived, I decided to register in Wyoming as I still considered Wyoming my primary domicile. As all my Arizona friends around me registered to vote online or by filling out one of the many clipboards passed through campus, I was surprised to learn the only way to register outside of Wyoming was by printing out a form and then taking all my proper identification to a notary for authorization. Finding a notary, especially one that would do it for free (hello poor college student), was surprisingly difficult and took time and energy away from school. After taking the papers to the notary I then sent them to my local county clerk’s office, only for them not to be processed by the deadline. I could have flown back to Wyoming the day of the election and registered at my polling place, but that was unreasonable, expensive and time-consuming. Being my first primary election, I was shocked that I was being turned away from voting for such arbitrary and archaic requirements.
In 1993, Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act (NRVA) as a way to provide more opportunities for Americans to register to vote. The NRVA requires all states to offer voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles and also sets guidelines on how to maintain a voter registry. The act exempted six states from its requirements because, at the time, they offered Election Day voter registration (EDR). Those six states include North Dakota (which does not require voter registration,) Wyoming, Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. While the original exemption was given because Congress deemed these six states to be progressive in terms of voter rights, some states, like Wyoming, have made few updates to voter registration laws since 1993. Once a leader in the nation by offering EDR, Wyoming is now one of only 14 states that does not offer online voter registration and still one of six with no voter registration available through the DMV.
Studies indicate by offering voter registration online, more voters participate on Election Day. Currently, Wyoming only offers voter registration at County Clerks’ offices or through the mail in notary process. If a voter needs to register by mail, one must access a computer, print out the registration and copy his or her identification and have the document notarized. The voter registration process is time-consuming and deters potential voters from registering. This is reflected in the percent of the voting age population who actually are registered to vote. In 2016, only 54% of eligible voters were registered to vote. Even with EDR, the Wyoming Election Committee reported only 57% of the eligible population voted in the general election. In Washington and Kansas, two states that switched to online voter registration, the number of voters who registered doubled after the process became electronic. By offering online voter registration, more Wyoming voters will be able to register and actively engage in the election process.
According to a 2015 question and answer response by the Wyoming Joint Committee on Corporations, the main reason legislators have yet to abolish the notary signature is they feel it prevents voter fraud. However, a study by Brennan Center of Justice reports in the Truth About Voter Fraud, “it is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.” In this report, the research meticulously studied elections for voter fraud and found it occurred at a rate between 0.0003% and 0.0025%.
Fear of voter fraud is not a valid reason to avoid modernization. Furthermore, there are ways to ensure and verify the identity of voters registering online. Many other states use a “captcha” code to help stop malicious attacks from online registrations. To help verify everyone’s identity the state can require citizens to input information from the previous year’s tax return, use driver’s license numbers and/or use social security numbers. There are many ways to ensure the online safety and integrity of voter registration. Additionally, online system voter registries are easier to manage, and clerical errors of data entry are less likely to happen.
From an economic standpoint installing an electronic registration system just makes sense. In Maricopa County, Arizona, processing a paper application voter registration cost 83 cents, while processing an online application cost 3 cents. After implementing the online registration program, 85% of new voter registrations in Arizona are done online. In 2008, Maricopa County saved the equivalent of eight full-time employees with the online system. In the current economic situation saving money when the state can is vital for the protection of other services.
Preregistration is critical, even in an EDR state, as registering at the polls requires certain documents that not everyone brings with them. Those who need an absentee ballot will have to go through the process of finding a notary and sending in the appropriate materials. With COVID-19 we have seen the importance in having a virtual back up to the in-person systems we have grown so accustomed to. The days of Wyoming leading the country in voting rights are long over; the people of Wyoming deserve a better and modernized system to voter registration keep up with the 21st century.