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New York State Implements Online Voter Registration

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, August 16 2012

New Yorkers are now able to apply to register to vote online through the state's Department of Motor Vehicles, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today.

Residents with a New York State license or identification card can now register through the MyDMV website, according to a press release, and update their address or party enrollment.

A key problem for online voter registration is how to handle each voter's signature. When the database of a state DMV is linked to a state's voter registration database, as New York's now apparently is, residents who already have a digital version of their signature on file at the DMV — thanks to obtaining a driver's license or other state ID — are all set; when they show up to the polls and sign in before entering a ballot box, their signature is checked against a copy of the record taken from the DMV. This is how Washington State handles its voter registrations, for instance.

When the program is fully implemented, voter applications will be transferred electronically via XML and PDF to county boards of election, eliminating the need for manual data entry associated with paper application forms, according to the press release. Until then, the DMV will print the electronically-captured voter registration applications with a digitized signature and mail them from their central Albany office to the county boards of elections.

"Governor Cuomo asked the Department of Motor Vehicles to re-examine how we did business and to find ways to make government more accessible to the public," DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala said in a statement. "Getting away from paper applications and making use of the technology we are announcing today will improve efficiency, be cost effective, and better serve the people of New York State."

"Today, we are knocking down longstanding barriers that have prevented many New Yorkers from participating in the democratic process, while creating a more streamlined and more efficient system that will save taxpayers' money," Cuomo said in a statement. "At the DMV, or in their own homes, New Yorkers will now have a convenient and secure way to ensure they are able to register and exercise their right to vote."

The press release notes that New York state currently ranks 47th in voter registration, with less than 64 percent of eligible residents registered to vote.

In June, New York state Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Brian Kavanagh had introduced the Voter Empowerment Act of New York that included provisions for online voter registration. In a statement today, Gianaris applauds Cuomo for helping to initiate online voter registration, but also says he and Kavanagh will continue to push for other provisions in the legislation including pre-registration, automatic registration and the changing of registration deadlines.

In February, state election officials told techPresident that online voter registration is not hard to implement technically, but that making it a reality usually needed an official to "champion" such an initiative and address security concerns.

"It is our belief that this is a major technological step forward which will result in the savings of employee time and taxpayer dollars," Erie County Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward said in a statement. "At the same time, the built-in safeguards will continue the policy of safeguarding the voting system against fraud while also meeting the voter identification requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act. The daily transfers will allow quicker processing of applications and the typed registration forms will be easier to process and will reduce the chance of error."

Praise for the move also came from the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Union and the League of Women Voters of New York State.