Will Online Registration Help Ohio’s Voting Rates?

Senate Bill 63 is Ohio's latest attempt to implement an online voter registration system, which has the potential to be critical for the country’s two major political parties.

by Michael D. Pitman, Journal-News / June 11, 2015

(TNS) -- While online voter registration will save time for elections officials and potential voters, it more importantly has the potential to save millions of tax dollars, according to testimony Wednesday in a committee hearing at the Ohio Statehouse.

The state is considering joining the growing number of states that offer this online option of registering residents to vote, and the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee is currently vetting Senate Bill 63, introduced by Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley.

This bill is the latest attempt to implement an online voter registration system — LaRose introduced Senate Bill 175 in August 2013 — and this system has the potential to be critical for the country’s two major political parties. Republicans and Democrats in Ohio, a key battleground state, support this push heading into the 2016 presidential election.

Online voter registration has the potential to get more people registered, which could lead to increased voter turnout.

David Becker, director of Election Initiatives for The Pew Charitable Trusts, said as it stands, more than 100 million eligible voters have access to online voter registration, and by November 2016 more than 150 million Americans will have access.

”It is one of those rare win-wins in government,” Becker said. “Online voter registration enhances the security, accuracy and integrity of the voter lists, while saving taxpayers potentially millions of dollars.”

LaRose, who has worked on this bill for four years, said this system “is proven” and has been around for years. Arizona was the first state to implement online voter registration in 2002.

“Implementing this common sense legislation will create an accessible and secure registration option for Ohio voters, and reduce cost for Ohio taxpayers,” LaRose said.

The state set up the ability for an online voter registration to be implemented potentially seamlessly when in the 130th General Assembly Senate Bill 200 was enacted. That bill, among other things, mandated the Secretary of State to modernize and maintain an electronic voter database.

There are roughly 235,000 Butler County residents who are registered to vote, but barely more than a third of those registered actually cast votes in the November 2014 general election, which included five statewide and two countywide partisan seats up for election.

Butler County Board of Elections Deputy Director Jocelyn Bucaro said it would be “difficult to predict” the money saved by the county with an online voter registration system since an analysis hasn’t been completed. However, she said the county would save between 50 cents and about $2 per registration.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a strong supporter of this initiative, testified to the Senate’s Government Oversight and Reform Committee his office looked at the other states that have implemented the program and Ohio would have saved millions of tax dollars if online voter registration would have been implemented in 2011 when he took office. From 2011 to 2014, Husted said between $2.8 million and $13.2 million in taxpayer dollars would have been saved.

There are 27 states, as well as the District of Columbia, that have either implemented or passed legislation to offer online voter registration bills. LaRose introduced the bill in February that could make Ohio one of the next states.

“Online voter registration is a win for voters and taxpayers,” said Bucaro, who also is Butler County’s Democratic Party executive chairwoman. “With Ohio being an important state in presidential election years, Ohio should be a leader in reforms like this.”

And Bucaro feels this legislation will get the support needed to implement it in advance of the 2016 general election.

“I’m hoping it will help ensure voters who are already interested in participating by making it easier to get registered in time,” Bucaro said.

She can’t predict the increase, but she believes registration — and in turn voter turnout — will increase.

LaRose also testified Wednesday with Husted and several other proponents of the bill. He said online voter registration equates to “achieving greater accuracy.”

“Ultimately, removing the middleman also removes the likelihood of human data entry error and makes for more seamless, efficient elections,” he said.

Online voter registration would “instantly cross-check” with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ database, LaRose said, which is an additional security measure that would provide assurances of citizenship and other necessary information to ensure voter fraud is less likely to occur.

Dozens of county commissions have also supported this push, LaRose testified. On Monday, the Butler County Commission voted to support SB 63.

Butler County Commission President Don Dixon said with the advancements in technology the legislation is “pretty much a no-brainer,” especially because of budget cuts many counties in Ohio and states across the country have had to make in recent years.

“It’s one more issue that’s come to the surface due to budget cuts, budget restraints,” he said. “I don’t see why any lawmaker wouldn’t support it.”

©2015 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.