What is Online Voter Registration?
Like its name implies, Online Voter Registration (often shortened to OVR) is registering to vote via a computer connected to the Internet rather than filling out a paper form by hand and mailing it or filing it in person to your local elections board, motor vehicle department, or other government office. About 22 states now allow online voter registration, and many more are bringing it online in coming months and years. Virtually every study that has been done shows that online voter registration saves states a lot of money by reducing time by state workers processing paper forms, and that online records are more accurate.
How does online voter registration work?
Every state does it a little bit differently, but generally you go online to a web site run by your Secretary of State or Board of Elections. There you will fill out an online version of the normal paper form that asks you some basic information about yourself -- name, age, date of birth, address, and usually a number that helps your state verify that you are, in fact, you. Usually that number is the last four digits of your Social Security number, or perhaps your driver’s license number, or state-issued government identification number. Then, after you complete the form online, it gets sent digitally to the elections office, which verifies your information by checking it against other state records, often the motor vehicle department. And then you’re registered.
Most states that have online voter registration allow you to go on the web site and verify that you are registered, and that the correct address and other information is listed.
What sort of OVR projects is the TrustTheVote Project working on?
We've created open-source software that any state or local government or outside group can use to set up online voter registration. Open-source means that there is nothing secretive about the computer code that is used to set up online voter registration. A software developer can look at the source code and figure out how to adjust and adapt it for their own jurisdiction’s needs. It is a very flexible tool. And the public owns the rights to the technology.
We're working on OVR innovations in two primary areas; voter registration management and services, operated and maintained by counties and states officials, and online voter registration apps for 2nd and 3rd party registrars -- folks who offer initial registration for the public and pass the registration on to the state.
What groups are currently using TrustTheVote OVR technology?
Rock the Vote is one example, a nonpartisan organization that encourages young people to vote, developed its online voter registration software with TrustTheVote Project engineers. Anyone can register to vote at the Rock the Vote site. Another example is in Virgina, where we are developing an extensive "voter services portal."
Where can I try out an online voter registration example?
The Commonwealth of Virginia uses TrustTheVote Project software to support its online voter services portal. You can run a practice test of Virginia’s online voter registration by clicking here. Don’t worry, it’s just a demonstration site. No data you enter there will appear anywhere and you certainly will not be registered to vote in Virginia!
What other voting registration tools is the TrustTheVote Project working on?
We’re creating many tools that local elections officials can use to manage the registration process. Here’s a short rundown:
- The Voter Services Portal Online voter registration is one part of the TrustTheVote Project’s larger Voter Services Portal (VSP). The portal is a central location or hub for everything a voter needs to participate in elections. You can use a VSP when you register to vote, but the portal can do many other things. It can allow you to look at your voting record to see when you voted last (not who you voted for); it can let you change your address if you have moved; it can tell you where your polling place is; and in some cases it can even present a sample ballot to familiarize yourself with what you will fill out on election day or by absentee balloting (if your jurisdiction supports that).
- The Voter Kiosk This is an all-in-one computer, display, and printer that could one day be accessible at your polling place to help you resolve any voter registration problems when you check in to vote. It will be like an airline check-in kiosk machine at the airport. If the elections worker can’t find you on the voter registration rolls, the Voter Kiosk will allow you to check and change your registration record on the spot (if you're jurisdiction supports "same day registration"). That way you won’t hold up the line for other voters. You’ll be able to print out a document that you can present to the poll workers that proves you’re eligible to vote.
- BusyBooth This is an application that you will one day be able to download to your smart phone or tablet. It will allow you to check how busy your polling place is so that you can figure out when the line is shortest to vote. BusyBooth will integrate with the Voter Services Portal for additional ease and convenience at the polling place or on your way there!
Can I register to vote online now?
Yes! In many states you can visit the State Secretary web site to do so. And perhaps even faster and easier, you can use the Rock the Vote online voter registration page to register. Not every state is on board with total online registration just yet. About half of the states still need to adopt this innovation. So, depending on the State where you live and intend to register, you may still need to print, sign, and mail an application (since that State will need your original hand signature). But more are moving to all digital registration services every year. And the ability to do so will extend beyond State Secretary's web sites. For instance, we have development efforts right now in one State (soon to be announced) where the Rock The Vote registration service will directly pass an applicant's information directly to the State. One day, registration processes everywhere will no longer require a printed form with your original hand signature.
Help Us Spread the Word and Speed Adoption
The thing is, adopting this technology is easy (and the software is free), because right now these kinds of voter services innovations are available through the non-profit TrustTheVote Project. We'd love it if you would ask your home State through their own web site feedback or contact form, if they use TrustTheVote Project open source tools for voter registration.
Where to Learn More
There are lots of online tools to find out how to register to vote in your state. You can go to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website and find a 50-state interactive map; you just click on your state and the office in charge of voting registration in your state will pop up. There you will find out what you need to register in your state.
If you’re a student, and you don’t know if you can register to vote in the state where you’re attending college, go to this site, the Student Voter Guide, by the Brennan Center for Justice. It has an interactive 50-state map that can tell you the rules for students who want to vote in the state where their college is.
How can I learn more about online voter registration?
The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonpartisan research organization, has an online brief (PDF) that explains all about online voter registration. If you have any concerns about the security of online voter registration, here's a relevant Q&A that should allay your fears.
Let Ms. Voting Matters know if you have any other questions about online voter registration in the comments section below. Our goal at the TrustTheVote Project is to increase confidence in elections and their outcomes. We think that starts with the ease and convenience of voter registration for all citizens.