Some states already offer online registration but California has put it off, awaiting implementation of a "VoteCal" statewide online database system now delayed at least until 2015.
Yee, D-San Francisco, instead wants to allow online registration through county registrars' offices: Citizens would input their voter information online and the registrar's office would use the voter's signature from the Department of Motor Vehicles to verify authenticity.
Yee says county elections officers believe this would save money and eliminate administrative errors from mistyping the data entry from a paper registration; after Arizona implemented online voter registration, he said, some counties saw their costs decrease from 83 cents per registration to 3 cents per registration.
"SB 397 will not only help protect the integrity of the vote, but will allow many more individuals the opportunity to register and participate in our democracy," Yee said in a news release.
If Yee's bill becomes law, it would let counties start using online voter registration for the 2012 Presidential Primary and General Election. Paper registration would still be available.
Contra Costa County Voter Registrar Steve Weir agrees the bill would help with data entry error avoidance.
"We make mistakes in data entry and sometimes, people's handwriting is difficult," he said in an e-mail. "In addition, with the 15-day close of registration, we can still be receiving legitimate registrations five days before an election and for major elections, it is very difficult to get all registrations into our system so that the voter's name appears on the roster (or supplemental roster).
"I like the idea that people register themselves and don't depend upon 'drives' for registration and for signature gatherers, as these folks bend the rules," Weir continued. "We have a drive that did not pay the return postage. The SOS (Secretary of State) sent them to us this month even though the registrants actually registered in time for the November gubernatorial General Election."
Weir said the DMV signature is key. People going to the DMV for the first time must produce an identifying document -- a birth certificate or some naturalization documentation, for example -- whereas standard voter registration cards aren't checked against citizenship or identifying documents.
"I am not convinced that the DMV is able (legally, we're told that a private vendor owns those signatures) to physically attach those signatures to online registrations," Weir said. "So, in concept, we like this option, although we want to see the actual language of the bill. Our Association will have a Legislative meeting on March 4 where we'll go over the details of the bill."