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Mobile Voter Registration Has Arrived

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, May 18 2010

Santa Clara County may be the first locality in the country to actually accept an electronic voter registration submitted from a source other than a government website.

On Friday, the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters accepted electronically signed voter registrations, submitted as Portable Document Format attachments to e-mail, from eight voters, according to registrar spokeswoman Elma Rosas. Several states already allow electronic voter registrations, but only when the voter-to-be fills out a form on a secure, government-run website.

This is the second mobile voter registration application we've heard of this election cycle, but it takes a functionally different approach than the one we heard about last month. The app designed by Project Vote and announced last month was described to me as one that delivers a voter's state ID number to the government entity responsible for elections, which then turns around and gets a copy of the voter's signature from the Department of Motor Vehicles database.

And, unlike the Project Vote initiative, this one is already working.

This one, built by a California-based company called Verafirma, uses a secure browser-based application to record a voter's signature as an encrypted portion of a file that's stored in Portable Document Format, Verafirma CEO Michael Marubio told me yesterday. He says his software captures data about how the voter-to-be records the signature — whether a t is crossed from right to left or the other way, for example, how long it takes to write the signature — that is encrypted but accessible through use of an encryption key that Verafirma will make available to elections officials. The theory is that this will make it easier to identify fraudulent signatures. (UPDATE: To be clear, this is an application that you can use to sign a voter registration form as viewed on your iPhone, for example.)

“One of the last frontiers for electronic signatures is this 19th-century, 18th-century system,” Marubio said.

After a close reading of California's election law, Marubio figures that the state's definition of an acceptable signature is broad enough — and his technology is secure enough — that documents signed using Verafirma's technology and e-mailed in by voters should stand up in court. In Santa Clara County, Marubio also received the support of local government before trying to register voters using his system.

But he says his system is in compliance with existing law.

“In California and at least 17 other states, what we're doing … requires no legislative change,” Marubio said.

That remains to be seen. There's an ongoing court battle over signatures affixed to initiative petitions in California using Verafirma technology — a battle the company is losing, at least for now.

And Marubio's technology hasn't been tested yet outside of California, although he believes the way is clear to try it out.