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Should online voter registration wait?

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-29 06:00:52-05

COLUMBUS – Ohioans would be able to register to vote without the need to sign, print or mail a paper form if a proposed bill related to online voter registration is passed.

The bill, which has received bipartisan support in the Senate, would establish an online voter registration system for the state of Ohio.

For Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, the bill would make it easier for Ohioans to register to vote. 

In 2015, about 7.5 million Ohioans were registered to vote, but only about 3.2 million voted – that’s around 43 percent of the total number of registered voters. In Hamilton County, about 540,000 people were registered, but less than half voted last year.

“Registration is not the same as participation,” LaRose said. “But once they get registered, they are one step closer to participation.”

Allowing Ohioans to register to vote online “is a long overdue step in modernizing and improving Ohio’s election system,” Secretary of State Jon Husted said in his testimony.

Thirty-one states have authorized online voter registration, Husted said, and the proposed bill has received support from elections officials, county commissioners and veterans groups alike.

“Online voter registration is more convenient, secure, accurate and less costly than the paper voter registration process,” Husted said.

With the online system, only Ohioans with state-issued driver’s licenses or state IDs would be eligible to register because their information would be matched with Bureau of Motor Vehicles records to ensure eligibility.

Online applicants would also need to provide their name, address, date of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security number.

The bill would also reduce voter registration processing costs, but savings would depend on certain factors, one of which is the number of additional applications that would be received electronically compared to paper form.

“If an online system had been in place in Ohio between 2011 and 2014, when the state processed more than 5.6 million registrations, we could have saved anywhere from $2.8 to $13.2 million,” Husted said.

Some opponents, however, do not believe the online voter registration system should be implemented in this year’s election.

Chris Long, the president of Ohio Christian Alliance, said the implementation of the online voter registration system should be delayed to 2017.

Long said the online system may not be secure and could potentially be hacked.

“We think it should be a slow walk and that the platform on the Internet should be tested, vetted before it is implemented,” Long said.

The system has been built, and the state has been testing the system for a number of years, said Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent. 

The proposed bill would also give Ohioans the option of declaring their party affiliation at the time they register to vote, or changing party affiliation at any time.

LaRose said he hopes the House will pass the bill as soon as possible. A bill will only take effect three months after the governor signs it into law, and voter registration for the Nov. 8 election ends on Oct. 11.

Joshua Lim is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at joshielim93@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @JoshuaLim93.