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Alabama Sees Huge Spike in Voter Registration Due to Online Availability

County officials are overwhelmed by the number of voter registrants who completed the forms online, but are determined to have it figured out by election season.

(TNS) -- The state’s new online voter registration system appears well on its way to becoming the preferred option for Alabamians looking to register or update their voter information.

But the influx of new applications this election season also has meant long hours for local officials who must process the documents.

Announced last week by the Alabama Secretary of State, the system allows residents to register to vote or update their voter information online.

According to the office of the secretary of state, the system is designed to increase the accuracy of voter rolls and provide a more convenient alternative to the existing paper forms.

Since an unannounced soft launch Jan. 22, the system has quickly grown in popularity, snagging 27,813 users statewide as of 3:15 p.m. Friday.

The spike in online requests has some local registrars working overtime to process the forms.

“That means a lot of late nights and early morning work,” said Adonis Bailey, chairwoman of the Morgan County Board of Registrars.

Bailey said she and her staff have come in early and stayed late every day since Jan. 28 and came in on at least one weekend to process the online forms.

The Morgan County office processed about 200 applications Tuesday. That compared to just 400 for the whole month of January.

“It’s just so many more people than we’re used to,” said Cathy Austin, an administrative assistant in Bailey’s office.

Similarly, in Limestone County, Board of Registrars Chairman Felix Liveoak said they processed about 200 applications Tuesday compared to just 56 the day before.

“It’s going to overtake the paper system,” he said.

Liveoak said he wasn’t sure if the new system was easier for his staff as it came out in the middle of an election season. He said the paperless forms can be more complex for those processing them.

The biggest challenge, he said, is processing applications that are meant to update an existing registration such as a change of address or name.

In Morgan County, Bailey said, they have had trouble with applicants failing to fill out portions of the form, including the section that asks for previous voter registration information.

“You have to go through it with a fine-tooth comb,” she said.

So far, they’ve been able to find all of those applicants’ old registration information. That helps ensure voters are removed from the rolls for their previous address.

Bailey advised that every applicant list his or her phone number — even though it’s not required — so registration officials can call if there are any questions.

Without a phone number, Bailey said, the only other option is to mail a copy of the application back to the voter with a request for missing information. That could delay processing until after the deadline for the next election.

The electronic system allows voters to register a few days later than they would have had to otherwise.

According to Bailey, the deadline for walking into a board office and registering in time to vote in the March 1 primary election is Friday.

For those mailing their applications, the application must be postmarked no later than Saturday. Finally, for those submitting their applications online, the last day is Feb. 15.

Bailey said she is worried the varying deadlines may be confusing for some voters.

The office of the secretary of state has already taken steps to correct some glitches in the new system.

John Bennett, deputy chief of staff, said there were three instances of people submitting more than two forms during the soft-launch from Jan. 22 to Feb. 1. In one case, the applicant submitted 10 identical voter registration forms.

Bennett said it appeared those users had slow Internet connections and clicked the submit button multiple times when the page didn’t reload as expected.

To correct the problem, they disabled the submit button after the first click, he said. Those users were not able to register multiple times, according to Bennett.

Bennett also said there was a problem processing the many applications in Jefferson County.

“They had a huge influx in the first couple days when it went live … so their county systems were kind of slow processing them, but they’ve since caught up and are processing on schedule,” he said.

Bennett reported no other problems for the system that continues growing in popularity. With no publicity at all, he said, 146 people used the site the first day.

To register online, voters must enter either their state-issued driver’s license number or their non-driver identification card number.

State voter identification laws still apply for online registrants, meaning they will be required to produce a valid photo ID before voting.

Bennett said they are investigating other methods of identification for online registration.

“We want to make sure they’re absolutely secure, so we don’t have any issues come up, but as soon as we’re able to verify that another method is secure, then we will add that as a way to register,” he said.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the new system is designed to make it easier for Alabamians to vote.

“It is incumbent upon us as election officials to leverage technology wherever we can to facilitate the voting process,” Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said in a statement. “We want every eligible Alabamian to be afforded the right to vote as well as participate in the electoral process. …”

With most of the work being done in-house, the new system has proven cost effective, according to Bennett, who said their total expense was $2,050 for the development of a Web application that has not yet been released.

Bennett said they hope to release that application by the end of the month.

It will allow people to register to vote, find out if they already are registered and give them directions to their polling places.

©2016 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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