Wisconsin may soon be in a minority of states that don’t allow voters to register online. The state, long considered a model for its high voter turnout and election administration, seems stubbornly old-fashioned as it sticks to paper registration while others move to online systems that are simpler, cheaper and less prone to errors, elections experts told lawmakers recently. Legislators from both parties have expressed interest in online registration, but progress has been stymied by a long-standing fight over same-day voter registration and other party divisions. Two bills that would have allowed online voter registration have failed to pass in the past four years, frustrating elections officials. “Online registration is no longer cutting-edge innovation. It is a well-established and essential tool,” said Kevin Kennedy, director of the Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin’s elections. “We already have in place what we need to do. We need the legislative authorization to do this.” Eighteen states have already adopted online registration, with Arizona pioneering the approach in 2002 and others following since 2007. Four states have approved the method and are working on the systems. Fifteen more states, including Wisconsin, are considering legislation, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, has pushed to pass a bill that would allow the Government Accountability Board to create a system permitting voters to register online, with data to be checked with records in other state databases. The system would allow voters with a driver license or other identification to update addresses or names and register to vote up to three weeks before an election. “I would have liked to have been on the cutting edge,” Berceau said. “…But we’ve got the textbook now.”
A form of the bill allowing online registration failed last session after Republicans, who control the Legislature, wrapped it into a larger piece of legislation that would have also changed campaign finance law.
A similar online registration bill also failed in 2010 after Democratic leaders who then controlled the Legislature said it was introduced too late. Republicans opposed that bill, saying it would have paved the way for voter fraud.