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Apr 28 / Steven Rosenfeld

Delaware Expands Innovative Paperless Voter Registration Program

The state of Delaware is taking another step towards fully paperless voter registration by expanding its “E-Signature” program to its Health and Social Services Department by early summer and to its Department of Labor later this year. “Health and Social Services is excited about it,” said Elaine Manlove, Delaware Commissioner of Elections. “They think it will be easier for them.”

Delaware was among the first states to implement fully paperless voter registration at its state motor vehicle agency. Starting in February 2009, it instituted a program where all people visiting motor vehicle offices are asked if they want to register or update their voter file. Their information, including their signature, is recorded in digital form. An electronic data and image file is then instantly transmitted to election offices.

The “E-Signature” program at Delaware’s DMV has cut election offices costs, reduced registration-related paperwork, and increased the accuracy of voter rolls, Manlove said. By extending it to the anti-poverty and employment agencies, Delaware will become the first state to comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 through a fully electronic registration process.

The NVRA seeks to extend voter registration opportunities by requiring certain state agencies to provide registration services. Most states that fall under the law (Election Day registration states are exempt) are in compliance at their motor vehicle agencies. However the law also requires states to offer registration opportunities at public assistance agencies serving low-income clients and persons with disabilities. Since the law’s inception compliance at those agencies has markedly declined .

The information technology revolution may change that, as evidenced by Delaware’s steps to expand its DMV program to the other NVRA agencies. “It will be the same process as the DMV,” Manlove said. “We brought in the signature pads. They (agency clients) will register, choose their party, certify that they are a citizen, and they will sign, and we will capture all that electronically. And it will come to Elections in real time, just as it comes from DMV.”

The key to implementing a successful paperless registration regimen is identifying where in the client-intake process people can be asked if they want to register to vote, Manlove said, and then forcing state employees to go through a concise electronic template on their computer screens to complete that process.

“We are trying to make it as simple as possible, thinking that if we make it easy for them” they will do it, she said. “We also don’t allow them to skip over it. It is a hard stop. You have to do something (on voter registration) before you move to the next stage.”

Read more about Delaware’s paperless registration program, and that of two other states, in Project Vote report, Paperless Voter Registration: Innovations in Three States.

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