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Ohio preparing for online voter registration

Site goes live New Year’s Day after long effort in Columbus

COLUMBUS — Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has a New Year’s resolution he wants Ohioans to make: register online to vote.

That goal can be realized as soon as the Times Square Ball completes its New Year’s Eve descent.

“It’s another positive step in trying to improve elections in America,” Mr. Husted said. “So when it strikes midnight, raise your glass in champagne, give a toast, and register to vote.”

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Husted

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Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 63 in the summer, authorizing the state to implement online voter registration, and it will be live at midnight on Jan. 1 on the Ohio Secretary of State’s website.

“It eliminates another excuse for not voting,” he said. “Nobody can say it’s too hard. You don’t have to leave home to participate in Ohio democracy now.”

Ohio is now one of 38 states, plus the District of Columbia, to move toward online voter registration, but seven states — which includes Ohio until New Year’s Day — have not implemented it yet.

Mr. Husted wanted online registration to be in place for the election in November, but the General Assembly chose to initiate it on Sunday. 

Butler County Board of Elections Deputy Director Jocelyn Bucaro sees a “fairly minimal” impact on local boards of elections.

“I don’t think the processes will change that much in what we’ve been doing the last four years with the online change of address,” she said. “It all happens at the push of the button.”

Though nearly a dozen states did not require legislation to authorize online voter registration, Ohio needed it because state law requires a signature on a voter registration form, Mr. Husted said. 

That’s where the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles enters the process.

Senate Bill 63 allows the secretary of state to compare a person’s driver’s license or state-issued identification number maintained by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. 

State law needed to change to permit that communication, Mr. Husted said.

When someone goes online to register they’ll fill out the form and click submit. The form will be sent from the secretary of state to the appropriate county board of elections.

“We can complain about government, but we have one opportunity to determine who’s going to govern us from the presidency to the city council and township trustees, and we get to determine how high our property taxes will be and whether or not we should approve a fire or policy levy,” Mr. Husted said.

This is the third significant online voter information tool Mr. Husted’s office has begun since 2012. The MyOhioVote.com page launched in 2012, and the online voter toolkit launched in 2015. 

All of this, Mr. Husted said, makes it “so much more efficient and simpler and helps build confidence in the system.”

Of all the tools, the online change-of-address system implemented in August, 2012, has been the most successful. 

Nearly 460,000 voters have used it, which Mr. Husted said means there were that many fewer provisional ballots because people may have been registered at an old address. 

Accurate voter information is important, he said, because elections do come down to a single vote.

Over the last three years, 112 elections in Ohio were decided by a single vote or ended up as tied. 

Tied votes on issues mean the issue fails — and that happened twice in November’s election. A Marlboro Township tax levy in Delaware County and an Akron local liquor option in Summit county tied and failed.

“Democracy works. but you got to participate,” Mr. Husted said.

Ohio’s political parties have robust voter-registration efforts. Mr. Husted said he believes they’ll be important in pushing online registration. 

Because the launch is in an odd-year election, a year where local and nonpartisan city council, school board, and township trustee races are decided, there won’t be a significant jump, Mr. Husted said.

But as more online voter registrations are processed,  more money will saved. 

Projections show that millions of dollars could have been saved if it had been enacted when Mr. Husted took office in 2011. 

Depending on the lowest and highest cost savings, between $4 million and $17 million could have been saved.

While cost savings are only projections and estimates at this point, a Pew Charitable Trusts study showed that Arizona experienced an 80-cent reduction per registration when that state opened up online voter registration. 

Other states have experienced a similar cost savings in processing registrations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Ms. Bucaro said she believes cost savings are down the road, but she said how much exactly “is hard to quantify.”

While staffing changes are not imminent, Ms. Bucaro said the real cost savings will be when less staff is needed for processing voter-registration forms, “which will save us a lot of money.”

“It will certainly make processing registrations easier,” Ms. Bucaro said.

Republicans and Democrats alike say they appreciate the new voting tool because voter registration is a year-round initiative.

“As technology is inserted into every aspect of our lives, we look forward to expanding our voter registration reach by utilizing online voter registration,” said Brittany Warner, Ohio GOP communications director. 

“We never stop our push to register Republican votes and will be using the online technology when it becomes available to continue to build upon the large influx on new GOP voters from 2016.”

Ms. Warner said the GOP added 1 million new registered Republican voters in the 2016 primary.

Democrats had pushed for online voter registration since 2009 when the Ohio House passed HB 260, but the bill failed to get out of committee in the Ohio Senate.

Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Kirstin Alvanitakis said while this is a welcome evolution in Ohio voting, “unfortunately, that leaves out a lot of seniors, young people, college students, and lower-income Ohioans from being able to take advantage of online voter registration.”

“Ohio should now take the next step and implement automatic voter registration, as has been done in states like Oregon, West Virginia, and Alaska,” Ms. Alvanitakis said. 

“The Democratic Party supports greater voter participation — regardless of party — and we will actively work to educate eligible Ohioans how they can get registered and ready to vote in critical local elections in 2017 and beyond.”

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