With online voter registration, no excuses

Connecticut has unveiled an exceptionally useful and modern system that offers citizens the ability to register to vote on any computer or mobile device with an Internet connection. Our state became the 15th in the nation and the first in New England to launch a website that will help include more eligible voters than ever to actively partake in their democracy. Excuses for not bothering to register continue to dwindle. This coming November voters will choose, among many offices, who will be Connecticut's governor.

The latest innovation - the online voter registration system - deserves high praise for its convenience, simplicity, accuracy, cost-effectiveness, security and, above all, accessibility, all of which point toward increasing registration rates.

The concept and implementation of online registration has been a long time in coming. When potential registrants visit the state site - voterregistration.ct.gov - one might wonder how a system based solely on paper could have existed for so long. Imagine corporate or government operations before the computer age. The paper system, while still having its place, presents obstacles to convenience and accuracy, with registrants filling out forms and mailing or personally delivering them to officials who must decipher handwriting, deal with incomplete forms and enter the information into computers.

Online registration makes perfect sense, especially because, as of mid-2011, 79 percent of Americans go online. For people between ages 18 to 33, the figure climbs to 95 percent, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Naysayers worried about online voter registration fraud can take heart that it would be extremely hard to cheat on Connecticut's system because a person's name, birth date and ID number must match DMV records, and if the town is different, the registrant approves the change of address.

The system also saves money. In Arizona, the first state to enact online voting, the figures from Maricopa County showed a $1.4 million savings since 2008, and an estimated 83 cents to process a paper form rather than 3 cents for online applications. Also, the state's registration rate increased from 29 to 53 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation two years ago allowing online voter registration and also Election Day registration. The first test for same-day registering came Nov. 5, 2013, when nearly 3,000 people statewide, including more than 260 in New London County, registered and cast ballots.

The governor and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill launched the registration website about two months ago. A welcome page comes up on the computer and informs that the potential registrant must have a DMV-issued driver's license, learner's permit or non-driver photo identification card and a signature on file with the DMV.

A new voter who registers by computer agrees to add his or her electronic signature to the online form. For Connecticut's system to work, a potential registrant's ID must be in the DMV database, which has signatures on file for more than 2 million residents.

The rest of the page gives easy-to-follow directions to register or to change your name and/or address on your current registration or to enroll in a political party or to change party enrollment. Election officials on the other end of the computer process your registration in a matter of seconds.

One simple step. Just open the site from any computer, laptop, smart phone or tablet and go.

Since the program's launch, more than 1,400 people have registered online as new voters and more than 580 have changed or updated their registration.

The League of Women Voters of Connecticut worked with Secretary Merrill's task force to suggest improvements to elections that included the goal of online voter registration. State Co-president Cheryl Dunson praised the new system, saying it marked a positive step forward into the digital age and offered a way to increase voter access and participation in underrepresented groups such as minorities, service members, senior citizens and young, first-time voters.

Though registration rates have increased with systems online, much work remains. At least 51 million people nationwide, nearly one in four eligible citizens, are not registered to vote, while in Connecticut, the rate is one in three.

We applaud the work of the Gov. Malloy and Secretary Merrill in launching the online voter registration system that opens access to more citizens to have their say in democracy and we urge people to complete the process by voting in the next election.

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