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Online Voter Registration is Coming to California

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, August 28 2012

Online voter registration is coming to California as soon as next month, the California Secretary of State's office announced in a message to county clerks and registrars of voters.

The Secretary of State's office is working with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the state's three election management system vendors, DIMS, DFM, and Votec, to develop and test the system before it is launched in September. When users fill out an online registration application, the Secretary of State will check applicants' California driver license or identification card number, date of birth and last four digits of their social security number against the DMV database. The DMV has electronic signatures on file for 94 percent of California citizens, according to the memo.

"If an exact match is found, the DMV will send the applicant's electronic signature image on file with the DMV to the SOS," the memo states.

At regular intervals, all of the state's 58 county election management systems will retrieve the applications, including those for which there is no DMV signature available. In that case, or instances where the applicant does not have a license, I.D. card or social security number, the system will generate a printable pre-filled voter registration application and instruct the applicant to print, sign, and mail it to their county elections office. The Secretary of State will still send the electronic voter registration file to the county system, where officials can add the voter's signature to the voter registration file once it arrives by mail. All applications submitted up to 15 days before Election Day are considered timely, even if they initially lack a signature. The system will also allow military and overseas voters to complete an application for voter registration or to request a special absentee ballot.

The system is currently undergoing testing ahead of its expected launch after Labor Day, according to Nicole Winger, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State's office. The state has had an online voter registration form for about a year and half, she explained. But because of the legal requirement for a signature, applications have not been able to be directly submitted, but needed to be printed out, signed and mailed. Winger explained that the implementation of online voter registration in California was contingent on funding, in this case $1.8 million in federal grants to cover the technology and to set the legal groundwork.

Governor Jerry Brown signed a law in fall 2011 that would allow for online voter registration using signatures from the DMV. Prior to that, an online voter registration law had been contingent on the completion of the state’s federally approved voter registration database VoteCal, electionline reported. California State Senator Leland Yee, a Democrat representing San Francisco and San Mateo County, had authored the most recent legislation, citing success in Arizona.

News about the upcoming launch of the system ended up in local news reports after a reporter saw the memo detailing the new arrangement on California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's website. Bowen posts all her memos online, including the one at issue here.

New York State also recently implemented an online voter registration system that utilizes the DMV's database. In a Monday press release, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says 3,474 New Yorkers have used the system since it launched August 16 to register to vote, or to change their address and party affiliation. Those numbers include 1,028 first-time voters.