Recommendation L-3: Allow voters to register and to update missing or incorrect registration information online.
As noted in Appendix C, typographical errors could be reduced significantly by eliminating the data transcription process and importing most or all of the relevant data from another system and/or allowing the voter to enter data himself or herself when necessary. However, the voter will always have to provide at registration some means of authenticating himself or herself at the polls, such as a signature. A mail-in registration form can contain a box for the voter’s signature, but online registration requires the applicant to appear (or to have appeared) somewhere in person at some official government agency to provide a signature. If this signature is digitized, it can be made available to the election official along with the information needed to register to vote. A number of states today take advantage of the fact that applicants for driver’s licenses must provide a signature; these states have developed online registration portals that enable citizens with driver’s license application signatures on file to register to vote online without having to appear in person anywhere.
Registration portals can also leverage the fact that basic information about the individual, such as name, address, birth date, and so on, are often also stored along with the signature—suggesting that importing the relevant data from the original state agency with the signature into the voter registration database is feasible in principle. When the voter registration application required information not already on file, the user would enter the information himself or herself and then be given a chance to verify and correct the information.
In addition, individuals whose registration forms contain illegible or missing information could be notified of that fact and at the same time be given a special code or password that would grant entry to a secure Web page, whereupon the individual could correct or provide the missing data. In the longer term, it might be possible to realize real-time verification of an online application for voter registration, so that an applicant whose information did not match DMV or SSA information on file could be informed of that fact immediately, so that corrections could be made at the moment.
If the individual’s signature is not already online with some other government agency, the individual will have to provide an original signature on a physical registration form. But such a form can be provided to the individual online, filled in online and the data captured, and then printed (and signed) for submission.
Such a procedure has several advantages for this committee’s recommended short-term action regarding online fill-in forms, which would still require that the data be manually captured upon receipt at the election official’s office. With online data capture, the individual’s data can be stored temporarily and then entered officially into the VRD (i.e., made permanent) when the signed form is received. This procedure eliminates the need for further processing of the typed information on the form (i.e., no data reentry or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) scanning), reducing costs and increasing accuracy. In addition, during the period between online data capture and receipt of the form, election officials can “pre-verify” the data entered and contact the individual if the necessary match cannot be made. With contact information on file (such as e-mail addresses), election officials can also remind the individual to submit the form and can provide information regarding drop-off locations for the form at colleges, schools, and other locations. And online acknowledgment of receipt of the signed form can be provided as well.
Online registration would also help UOCAVA voters to register.4 Today, the registration process for military and civilian voters overseas is cumbersome, requiring transmittal of completed registration forms by physical mail. Transmitting the information on voter registration forms would eliminate this sometimes-unreliable step.
UOCAVA refers to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986, which enables states and territories to allow certain groups of citizens to register and vote absentee in elections for federal offices. Most states and territories also have their own laws allowing citizens covered by the UOCAVA to register and vote absentee in state and local elections as well.