Pennsylvania Adopts Texting Service to Increase Voter Registration Awareness

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has added 2Vote, which allows residents to begin the registration process by sending a text

by David Weissman, The York Dispatch, Pa. / September 28, 2016

(TNS) -- When Gov. Tom Wolf took office, Pennsylvania was already behind many states in allowing online voter registration, but the state is now an early adopter of a texting service designed to increase registration awareness.

Wolf often cited a need for more accessible voter registration during his campaign for office, and about seven months into his first term as governor, Pennsylvania became the 23rd state to allow online registration, according to Secretary of State Pedro Cortes.

Cortes said he had been pushing for online voter registration when he served under previous Gov. Ed Rendell because it's "more convenient and accessible." Last week, online voter registration services surpassed 500,000 users in the state, he said.

Cortes said one of the main benefits has been to county election offices, which are able to reduce labor intensive data entry resulting from handwritten registrations, which can sometimes contain illegible entries.

Nikki Suchanic, director of the York County elections office, previously said the option does help her office process applications more easily.

A couple weeks ago, Wolf's administration added another options for voters, with 2Vote, which allows residents to begin the registration process by sending a text.

With the service, eligible Pennsylvania residents can text "PA" to 286-83 ("2Vote") on their smartphone devices. Those who do will receive a mobile link to the state's Everyone Votes PA website, which allows users to register, check registration status, find their polling place, contact their county election office or contact the state department.

The service is offered by Global Mobile, a tech-based startup based in Atlanta that has leadership with York County ties.

Jim Snyder, president of the company, is a York County native and brother of Newberry Township's police chief.

Snyder said Pennsylvania is the third state to fully adopt his service, joining Georgia, Colorado and parts of California.

"For millennials who are doing everything on their smartphone, this is a great way to get them involved," he said.

The service, which was just recently launched, has had about 1,000 users, but Snyder said he believes a larger user base will come quickly with more awareness.

"Most states aren't quick to adopt new technologies unless they know it's safe," Snyder said, pointing out that his company does not use the service to track any users. "I think it's a testament to Pennsylvania that they're giving their residents this option."

Wolf wrote in a statement that he believes "in the fundamental principle that the more citizens who participate in our elections, the stronger our democracy."

"That is why my administration has prioritized breaking down barriers to the process by making it easier for Pennsylvanians to register to vote and keep their voter registration up-to-date," he wrote.

Cortes added that his department has made numerous visits around the state to inform residents about voter registration and adopted a service that allows them to keep up-to-date lists of eligible voters in the state.

"We're identifying potential electors and engaging them in nonpartisan fashion," he said.

While the voter registration initiatives have been well received, alterations to actual voting practices don't appear likely in the near future, Cortes said.

Colorado, Oregon and Washington allow residents to mail in their ballot, but there is "no strong drive" to adopt this practice in Pennsylvania, he said.

"The governor likes to say anything is on the table," Cortes said. "But we held a commission on election reform in 2005, and there's a clear desire to preserve the spirit of in-person voting."

Cortes said he would support no-excuse absentee voting, which would remove the current requirement for absentee voters to have an excuse to vote by mail.

Snyder wants to take it a step further and allow people to vote by phone, he said, but he knows nobody is ready for that yet.

"There's just too many concerns over security at this point," he said, adding that his company does have a patent pending for a service using phones to verify voter identification.

The registration deadline in Pennsylvania is Oct. 11.

©2016 The York Dispatch (York, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.