As 2016 approaches, however, the state has launched a service that will make it easier to vote than ever before: online voter registration.
On Thursday, Gov. Wolf and Secretary of State Pedro Cortés announced that PA has become the latest state to launch an online voter registration application. Hosted by the Department of State, the form is now available for use by eligible citizens at register.votesPA.com.
“Online Voter Registration is about making the voting experience more convenient and more accessible,” Governor Wolf said in a statement on Thursday. “It is about giving citizens an easier way to exercise their right to vote and establishing a clearer connection between the political system and the citizens. Online voter registration is secure, it improves accuracy and will reduce costs for counties by cutting down on time-consuming data entry.”
Online voter registration is available in 22 other states. In five additional states and the District of Columbia, OVR has been approved and is awaiting implementation. According to Secretary Cortés, the trend towards OVR is only natural in an increasingly digital world.
“As elsewhere, Pennsylvanians have grown accustomed to doing business online, whether it is shopping, banking or filing their tax returns,” Sec. Cortés said. “As a natural extension, they want the convenience of registering to vote using their own computer or mobile device. Online voter registration makes the process more accessible and accurate.”
Once registered, voters can navigate the online form in English or Spanish to record a change in name, address, or party affiliation. Registered voters may also use the new site to request assistance at the polling place.
Cortés says that the site was welcomed by county election officials, who bear the primary responsibility of managing voter registration.
“OVR has support from county election officials because it will improve accuracy, increase the integrity of the voting rolls, reduce time-consuming data entry and yield considerable cost savings,” Sec. Cortés said.
When an applicant completes the online form, the information will be forwarded directly to the appropriate county voter registration office for processing. The online form will not allow a voter to register with incomplete information, and it will save county officials the challenge of deciphering illegible handwriting. Counties will receive the applications through the same system which currently forwards Motor Voter applications from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, so there was minimal training needed for county election workers.
In addition to reducing manpower, OVR programs in other states have also generated considerable monetary savings. A May 2015 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts said states using online voter registration had seen per-application savings ranging from $0.50 to $2.34. In Arizona, which in 2002 became the first state to implement online voter registration, election officials report their cost is 3 cents for each online application versus 83 cents for a traditional paper form.
The Governor’s Office insists that the system will also be more secure for voters. The form will be transmitted directly to the proper county voter registration office for processing, so personal information won’t pass through several hands before the registration is complete.
“The latest protocols in data security have been built into the system and will be constantly monitored and updated,” a statement from the Governor’s office reads. “The Pew study reported that there have been no security breaches in any of the states already using an online system.”
Because the online voter registration site is directly linked to PennDOT’s Motor Voter system, if an applicant has a driver’s license or PennDOT ID card, the signature already on file with PennDOT can immediately be linked to the voter record.
Applicants who do not have a driver’s license or PennDOT ID card will be able to print, sign and mail the completed online application to their county voter registration office. If they are not able to print the application, they may request that the Department of State mail them a signature card to complete and return to their county office.