Proposed law could help U.S. voters register online

McCarthy’s act would make process easier for voters, but not necessarily for clerks

bcuddy@thetribunenews.comJanuary 24, 2010 

A local congressman has introduced legislation he says will make it easier to register to vote online in California and other states.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, recently introduced the Responsible Online Voter Empowerment Registration Act “to increase states’ online voter registration services without compromising existing safeguards that protect against fraud.”

His bill, H.R. 4449, would provide states with grant money to help with online registration.

“As Americans utilize more technology in their daily lives, it is important that the systems that are used to elect our official representatives at all levels stay up-to-date to allow all voters to let their voices be heard on Election Day,” McCarthy wrote in a news release.

A voter can now register online, but the form is printed and mailed to them with their signature, according to county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald. McCarthy’s bill would remove that step and let voters register directly online, she wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune.

Rodewald says she is not persuaded that McCarthy’s legislation would reduce her department’s administrative tasks, but “we will figure out a way to make it work.”

“The idea that this would reduce data entry is probably not entirely true — our staff would still have to review the application and make sure that all the information is complete ... and that it is in proper form; oftentimes the address is not entered correctly for the system.”

Rodewald also worries that should the bill be passed, the money might not end up with the county, stopping instead at the state level.

“Their commitment for funds is positive, although I doubt they will get all the way to the county level,” she wrote.

Federal, state and local governments routinely squabble over who should receive which taxpayer dollars, with the state accusing the federal government of short-changing them, and local governments accusing the state of raiding their coffers.

In addition to the flow of money to implement the program, there are concerns about voter fraud. But McCarthy says he has solved that problem by matching online voter registration signatures and information to an existing database of signatures from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Online voter registration systems ... are tied into a DMV database allowing election officials to extract the signature from the driver’s license record and attach it electronically to the voter registration record,” McCarthy’s dep-uty press secretary, Brian Klotz, wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune.

But even that is not problem-free, according to Rodewald.

“If we are using the signature from their DMV file, it could be many years old and may not match what their current signature looks like,” she wrote.

Rodewald says the Secretary of State was swamped with last-minute ballots in 2008, and “many counties were not even able to enter all the valid registrations by Election Day.”

Rodewald adds that whatever happens with the McCarthy’s bill, California has enacted a similar law, although it may not take effect until January 2012.

“So even if the federal law does not pass, we will be dealing with it in California,” she wrote.

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