You can already shop, take care of your banking or chat with your friends online. Is registering to vote next? A bill that passed the state Senate last week proposes just that. “I think it is a common-sense change that encourages people to participate in the process. It’s hard to argue against that,” said Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, the legislation’s main sponsor. The bill passed the Senate unanimously; it now moves to the House. Currently, eligible Pennsylvania voters can go online and print out a registration form that they must fill out and mail, but Senate Bill 37 would make the registration process completely available online. It also would allow current voters to switch their address or party affiliation online.
Twelve states already have online paperless voter registration. Four other states have passed legislation facilitating online registration but have not begun registering voters electronically yet, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan research organization.
Several factors are driving the trend, such as the cost savings for states and improved accuracy of voter rolls, said Jennie Drage Bowser, senior fellow, legislative management program with the conference.
While there can be upfront costs, most states have seen a huge savings in processing voter registration forms online versus on paper, she said, citing data from Arizona that put that state’s cost of processing a standard paper registration at $0.83, versus $0.03 for an online one.
Additionally, the public has an expectation of quick and easy online services, she said.
“It’s sort of what the public expects now. People don’t do very many things on paper anymore,” Ms. Bowser said.
In Pennsylvania, upfront software costs could be up to about $300,000, though they could be far less, according to a fiscal note accompanying the legislation. Any cost savings would more likely be seen by individual counties, which handle voter registrations before sending them on to the state, said Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State.