Yesterday California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 381, authored by State Senator Ron Calderon (D-Los Angeles), which will allow the Secretary of State to implement an online voter registration system.
Last December, I testified at a State Senate informational hearing on online voter registration, and raised numerous concerns about the security of such a system and how voter privacy would be protected. SB 381 was amended to address these concerns, and was supported by a wide range of groups, including the Secretary of State, who issued a news release yesterday praising the Governor's signature .
It is newsworthy that the Governor signed this bill. His own Department of Finance had recommended a veto due to the bill's up-front start-up costs, and the day prior the Governor vetoed several election reform bills, including AB 2953, which would have required pollworkers to inform independent voters in writing of their right to cast partisan ballots in primary elections. Following the record- setting budget impasse, the Governor said he would only sign bills that are of "the highest priority for California", and the election reform bills, according to his veto message, did "not meet that standard".
But apparently online voter registration does meet the governor's "highest priority" standard. While it will certainly be
technologically challenging to set up the system, the California Voter Foundation board and staff have been studying the feasibility of online voter registration and we think it can be done in a safe and secure manner.
The system called for in SB 381 is similar to the one Arizona has established. It will utilize the Department of Motor Vehicles'
database to verify the eligibility of potential voters and will use a digitized image of the DMV signature for the registration record. The system, which will only become operational after the state's new VoteCal database is functioning, will include functions that allow voters statewide to check their registration status online, a convenience currently offered to voters in only a handful of counties.
Some may think online voter registration will lead to online voting, but that is not CVF's opinion. Voter registration records, unlike ballots, are public records and therefore the risks associated with transacting them online are not the same as transacting ballots online. A voter registration record transacted online can be verified by election officials and voters in a way that an online ballot, the contents of which must remain secret, cannot.
CVF looks forward to working with the Secretary of State, the Department of Motor Vehicles, county election officials, and other
public interest groups to develop a state-of-the-art online voter registration process for California. And we congratulate Senator Calderon, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for their bipartisan leadership in moving forward an important election reform for California voters.