Online Registration Bill is Moving, but Ohioans Won’t See Benefits Until 2017

By Marissa Liebling May 11, 2016
(Howard TJ/Creative Commons)
(Howard TJ/Creative Commons)

Since the beginning of 2015, 11 states and the District of Columbia launched online voter registration (OVR) websites and another five states enacted OVR legislation. In 37 states so far, policymakers recognized the many benefits of this reform and provided—or soon will provide—for the submission of paperless, electronic registration applications.

In this same time period, OVR legislation has been pending… and pending… and pending in Ohio. Passed by the state senate last summer, it’s been stalled in the house ever since. Yesterday, a house committee finally voted to start moving the bill forward. However, the committee also adopted an amendment to delay implementation. So, while Ohioans have been waiting well over a year for legislative approval, they would now have to wait until 2017 to take advantage of the reform.

That’s too bad, because speedy passage and implementation of OVR would:

  • Save money – Arizona led the way by adopting OVR in 2002. There, a single county reported over one million dollars savings over a five-year period, thanks to OVR. Cost-savings have been a consistent feature of OVR as paper-based registrations inevitably cost more. For example, where processing paper registrations costs $2.95 per application, online registrations cost only 10 cents in California.
  • Benefit election administration and local officials – Because it reduces handwritten forms, incomplete applications, and the need for manual data entry, OVR makes election official’s jobs easier. As a result, the reduction in errors, typos, and duplicates increases the accuracy of the voter files, which leads to better lists for planning and administering elections.
  • Help voters – This is probably self-evident. With increasing reliance on the internet for all aspects of everyday life, it’s no wonder the convenience of OVR makes it extremely popular. In 2014, three million registration applications were submitted online—over six times the amount submitted online in 2010. And that was before the wave of a dozen new online registration jurisdictions. Online registration rates are sure to keep growing. Kentucky is one of the most recent OVR adopters. There, state officials reported 15,000 online applications in the first three weeks alone.

Importantly, Ohio is ready for OVR. Voters can already update their registration addresses online. The system simply needs to be expanded so new applicants can provide information that will be verified with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which will then provide the applicant’s signature file. Further, any security concerns should be alleviated by the lack of problems elsewhere, given that nearly two-thirds of states offer OVR, and some have had OVR systems for many years. And Secretary of State Jon Husted, the chief election official, has long been urging the adoption of OVR.

Rather than delay, this presidential election year would have been the perfect time for Ohioans to start reaping the benefits of OVR. Increased registration opportunities could help bring new voters into the fold. Perhaps equally or more important, OVR during busier election cycles naturally maximizes the cost-savings and the election administration benefits. Instead, house lawmakers dragged their heels for a year and now claim there isn’t enough time.

Even with later implementation, OVR lawmakers should pass an OVR bill, as it will ultimately improve voter access and elections in Ohio. But, without compelling reasons for the delay, this amendment seems like yet another case of politics interfering with what is practical.