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Online voter registration could come to Ohio

Ohio could soon push its voter registration into the digital age with a bill to implement an online voter registration system.

Ohio could soon push its voter registration into the digital age with bipartisan support in the state legislature for a bill to implement an online voter registration system.

The bill, SB 63, passed the Ohio Senate last year and is undergoing committee hearings in the House.  

Supporters of SB 63 have touted efficiency and cost-saving measures as benefits of implementing an online system.

The bill, which the Senate voted for almost unanimously, would require information provided in an application be consistent with information on file with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. It would allow people to update their information and declare party affiliation at any time. Party affiliation is determined by the political party with whom the voter cast his ballot in the most recent primary.

“Anything we can do to expand access to the ballot — encourage voter participation — is a good thing,” Ohio State Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, said.

Online voter registration started with Arizona in 2002. Since then, it has expanded to 29 states. In 2003, online registrations accounted for 25 percent of all registrations in Arizona, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice. By 2012, they accounted for 46 percent.

In a copy of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s testimony to the Ohio House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, he said online voter registration “is a long overdue step in modernizing and improving Ohio’s election system.”

The bill requires a photo identification for registration, which Gentile called problematic.

“In college campuses or among seniors, there may be individuals without some kind of state-issued driver's license or photo I.D.,” Gentile said. “For them, that online barrier may still exist — they may not be able to utilize the online system.”

Ohio State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, said increased I.D. requirements have made the voting process more difficult in past years.

In his testimony, Husted also said the state could have saved anywhere from $2.8 million to $13.2 million between 2011 and 2014, based on the Pew Charitable Trusts' data on the costs online versus paper transactions.

According to a 2015 report by Pew Charitable Trusts, states with online registration reported an average cost of $249,000 for development and implementation of their systems. They also reported spending 50 cents to $2.34 fewer for each electronic transaction than for paper. 

Online registration has experienced varying degrees of success in other states and has a debatable effect on turnout.

Pete Couladis, chair of the Athens County Republicans, said he hasn’t seen any evidence that online registration increases participation.

“It all boils down to the individual,” Couladis said. “If they have a desire and an interest, they will get registered, and they will vote.”

On a similar note, the Brennan Center’s report indicates that usage of online voter registration depends on interest in a particular election. In 2014, for example, usage decreased compared to 2012. Turnout in the 2014 election was relatively low, as it tends to be in non-presidential years.

Phillips said online registration might be more popular with young voters, while older voters might be inclined to stick to the usual paper registration.

“I think that students are used to doing a lot of things online,” Phillips said. "I think that it will come naturally and just be logical and make sense to younger voters."


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