Getting Online Voter Registration Right

TO: Newspaper Editorial Boards and Opinion Writers

FROM: Progress Florida Education Institute and Fair Elections Legal Network

SUBJECT: Proper implementation of Online Voter Registration (OVR) is critical to Florida voters

We are writing to urge you to editorialize in favor of implementing the most effective and accessible OVR system for Florida possible.

Now that Online Voter Registration (OVR) has passed through the legislature with bipartisan support, and been signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, focus must now shift to ensuring its implementation in the most effective and expeditious manner possible. 

The OVR bill recently signed into law will enable Floridians to register to vote or update their registration online, by October 2017, simplifying a process that can be intimidating for many first-time voters. 

Here are four key issues that should be addressed immediately by the Scott Administration and Secretary of State to ensure the most effective and accessible OVR system possible:

1. Start building the OVR system now, not later.

Secretary Detzner cited concern over the potential need to overhaul the voter registration database and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles database. But for faster and easier implementation, OVR should be incorporated while the databases are in development. The legislature allocated funds specifically to build the technology, and these funds should be accessible as soon as July 1st when the new budget takes effect. Through simultaneous development, Florida can better build a seamless system with appropriate data security built into the technology.

To maximize savings and eliminate errors in the database it is imperative that the Department of State begin working on an implementation plan immediately. Online voter registration applications have the ability to save local Supervisors of Elections and, therefore county taxpayers, tremendous amounts of money and resources. States with online voter registration applications have reported a drop in cost such as Arizona’s spending of $0.83 per paper application compared to just $0.03 for an online application.

Voters utilizing online voter registration applications can directly input their information, resulting in fewer voting database errors than with traditional paper registration. Maricopa County, Arizona found that their online applications were five times less likely to introduce errors into the voter rolls. Other states with online applications have shown that the citizens who utilize the online process generally reflect the overall voting population in a state, providing no partisan advantage of registrations to either party. There is no justifiable reason to delay OVR implementation given the amount of money to be saved and data errors that can be avoided.

2. Build an OVR system that integrates seamlessly with third party voter registration organizations.

The Department of State should also keep Florida’s third party voter registration organizations in mind when designing the new website and follow the lead of other states to build third party portals. Building third party voter registration activities into the new system will allow third parties to use their own portals to ensure the information captured goes directly to the state and organizations can confirm that their ID number is included in submissions. This common sense addition will allow the new system to integrate seamlessly into current law and protect voters’ sensitive information.

3. Build a Spanish language OVR system parallel with building the English language system.

A Spanish language version should be launched simultaneously for the large Spanish speaking population in the state. Many voters are more comfortable taking part in the important act of voting in their first language. Despite being legally obligated to provide information in Spanish, the state has struggled to provide these voters equal access to information. This should not be repeated in the new online voter registration system.

4. Build an OVR system that is easily accessible by disabled Floridians.

In order to guarantee all Floridians have access to this new registration opportunity, the state should ensure the technology allows full participation for voters with disabilities. Simply having an online system is insufficient. The language of the law requires OVR to comply with numerous laws for accessibility but the state should work with experts to make certain all necessary features are built into the initial launch so the system is free, fair, and accessible.

Reinvigorate our democracy.

The launch of OVR is an opportunity to bring Florida elections into the 21st century, but simply signing the law is not enough. The Governor and Secretary of State must take an active role in ensuring a robust and smart launch as soon as possible. It will save money, reduce errors, and improve access for voters across the state if implemented correctly.