Florida’s Long-Awaited Voter Registration Site Live, but Not Complete (Editorial)

The system, once branded too risky by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, is falling short of expectations.

by The Palm Beach Post / October 11, 2017
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(TNS) -- Online voter registration, a system once called too risky by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, has finally come to Florida.

But the system, sought by the state’s 67 supervisors of elections for years, is still incomplete and falls short of expectations for ease of use and promotion. And given how Secretary of State Ken Detzner criticized the system and slow-walked its implementation — despite bipartisan support — concern about whether he will plug those holes is understandable.

With its Oct. 1 debut, the new website, RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov, finally puts Florida in compliance with a 2015 state law mandating the online upgrade and puts it in line with 35 other states. But for Florida, a state that has a history of purging voting rolls before key elections, the online registration system is truly a big step in opening up the voting process. Clearly, there is a need to boost voter turnout, as an estimated 5 million Floridians are eligible to vote but aren’t registered.

But the new website is problematic. For starters, advocates for better access to voting had hoped that the Florida Department of State would have used a publicity campaign to promote it. The website’s unveiling is more of a “soft launch” than a “grand opening.”

Worse, there’s the legal inconsistency between in-person and online registration. The online process requires voters to provide a Florida driver’s license or state identification card and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers to register.

Individuals registering in person at local driver’s license and supervisor of elections offices don’t face that requirement. They have to present only a Social Security number if they lack a driver’s license or state ID card. This discrepancy in the two systems should be an easy fix.

Another concern involves the ability of third-party groups to use the site to help eligible voters to register or renew online. Right now, they can’t.

In 2011, Scott signed a bill into law that established severe restrictions and fines on volunteer third-party voter registration efforts. The law forced organizations to limit or curtail voter registration drives, and prompted concerns of voter suppression by the state. That law was ultimately challenged in court by the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The state seems determined to head down that rocky road again. Third-party groups are required to register with the state before organizing voter registration drives. However, such organizations as the League of Women Voters, NAACP and Common Cause can’t use computers and other electronic devices to register voters online because the new website has no place for them to enter their registration numbers.

Pamela S. Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, has worked with Detzner, the state’s chief elections official, in hopes his department would correct the inconsistencies and develop a better promotional campaign before the website’s launch. But no such luck.

Goodman says the league will continue to work with the secretary, but has not ruled out a lawsuit if those efforts fail.

Detzner initially opposed online voter registration, citing security concerns — reservations Scott echoed in 2015 when he signed the bill sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis.

The state Legislature, however, provided Detzner $1.8 million to encourage him to support online registration and agreed to delay its implementation until Oct. 1 of this year.

Detzner now insists that the new system contains “multiple safeguards,” including captcha boxes, data encryption and a state-of-the-art firewall, to verify registrations and to protect personal information.

In a statement, he said his department has been working to “implement an online voter registration website that provides Floridians with a secure and more easily accessible way to register to vote,” adding that he hopes “that with this new and convenient method, more Floridians will register to vote and engage in the electoral process.”

But it took Detzner more than two years to launch an online voter registration system that realistically could have been done in six months.

We hope he doesn’t show similar foot-dragging to ensure the system is consistent with state law.

©2017 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.