A bill to allow the Secretary of State to implement online voter registration, SB 381, is receiving bipartisan support in the Legislature according to an article by John Wildermuth in Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle, featured below.
Californians may soon be able to use their computers to register to vote and they can thank the state Department of Motor Vehicles for the chance.
The bill to allow online registration, SB381, co-authored by state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, has rolled through the state Senate with few complaints and awaits final approval by the Assembly before going to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arizona and Washington already have such systems, and online registrations there are surging. While would-be California voters now can fill out the voter registration form online from the secretary of state's Web site, they must print the form, sign it and mail it to their county election office.
Calderon's bill would computerize the entire process by allowing the secretary of state to replace the personal signature with the digitized signatures already online for people who have received California driver's licenses and identification cards.
Signatures that appear on the licenses and cards are as secure as those on voter registration cards, Calderon said, because Californians have to appear in person at the DMV, present a birth certificate or other identification, sign the application and have their photo and thumbprint taken.
"While there were some early security concerns, we eased them by requiring the driver's license number, date of birth and the last four digits of the Social Security number to be entered on the online registrations," the senator added.
The bill passed unanimously in the Assembly's election committee, with the support of two Republican members, while the Assembly appropriations committee approved it on an 11-4 vote along party lines.
"My main concern is that voting security is not tight enough as it is and allowing online registration won't help," said Assemblyman Doug La Malfa, R-Biggs (Butte County), who voted against the bill in committee. "We should set a high bar for people looking to vote and there are already a lot of fake IDs out there."
Calderon, chair of the Senate elections committee, came up with the bill after talking to Secretary of State Debra Bowen last year about ways to increase voter registration, which has held steady at about 70 percent of the state's eligible voters.
"This will help people registering close to the deadline or who are traveling or in the military," he said.
Bowen is supporting the bill, which she believes will especially appeal to young people who are accustomed to conducting much of their business online.
"Secretary Bowen believes this is the next logical step for voter registration," said Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for the secretary. "You can file tax returns online, you can register your car online, so you should be able to register to vote online."
The programs in Arizona and Washington have had few, if any, problems. Arizona's EZ Vote system has been in use since 2002 and more than 70 percent of voter registrations are now done on the Internet.
Washington's Legislature approved online registration last year and the system went live in January. Already, 40 percent of new registrations are done online, said Katie Blinn, assistant director of elections in the Washington secretary of state's office.
"It's really been very popular here," she said. "Both voters and local election administrators like it because it's so much faster."
Despite complaints from some GOP legislators, the lack of organized opposition to California's online registration plan is surprising given concerns about the security of voting machines, ballot results and everything else connected with elections. Several states, including Arizona, already require identification from everyone showing up at the polls to cast a ballot.
But online voter registration is different from online voting and presents a much lower level of security concerns, said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.
"It's a different challenge, since voter registration cards aren't secret and ballots are," she said. "There are a lot of things about voting that don't work online, but voter registration is one thing that might."
Even if Calderon's bill sails through the Legislature and is signed by the governor, it's going to be awhile before it takes effect. The bill first requires that a new statewide voter registration database be operating, which isn't expected to happen until next year.