by David Ammons | April 7th, 2010
A new report from the independent Pew Center for the States gives top marks to online voter registration in Washington and Arizona, the states that pioneered the service that is now catching on in other states, including Oregon, California and Colorado.
It’s an easy and secure click-on system – all an eligible voter needs is a valid driver’s license to get started. State Election Director Nick Handy, whose team has been sharing startup information with other states, says Washington residents “really appreciate this user-friendly way of registering to vote. It saves money and it improves access.”
The 140-page Pew study says the new alternative to paper-based, mail-in or in-person registration is accurate, saves administrative costs and involves less paper-handling by election staff. The report says younger voters in particular are gravitating to online registration – 60 percent of Washington’s Internet registrations were from people under age 34. Many live in Puget Sound counties. People who register online were somewhat more likely to vote than those using traditional methods.
Shane Hamlin, assistant director of elections, says the study notes great potential for growth in online registrations: During the first year of operations, 2008, only 27 percent of the survey sample knew that Internet registration was possible. “It seems that increased public outreach and awareness campaigns are necessary to better inform the general public,” he says.
The report says a study of the Arizona experience showed that the paperless process cost only three cents per online application, versus 83 cents for paper. Washington used $278,000 in federal money to develop its system and recouped much of that in first-year postage savings alone. Some Washington counties said they saved $2 worth of staff time for each registration, cutting time by half. Also, some counties offered off-site registration this year, taking laptops to county fairs or other locations.
The report notes “overwhelmingly positive response” by the public, with more than 9 out of 10 voters saying the online system is easy to use.